How the Justice Media co-Lab is More Than Just Another Course

When you reflect back on your college journey, it might prove difficult to recall every single class you took. Yet when the work from your class ends up published on CBS Boston, it’s easy to classify that course as transformative.  

This sentiment is echoed throughout the Justice Media co-Lab. Students like Mahmoud Khalil, Data Science Project Manager at Spark!, were able to work alongside the CBS Boston I-Team to merge the worlds of data science and investigative journalism. Their task? Uncovering if minority owned businesses were left out of COVID relief loan distribution.

Can you describe your role in the WBZ PPP Loan investigation? 

Khalil: For the WBZ PPP Loan investigation project, I was responsible in guiding the students from a Data Science perspective. I helped them understand and retrieve the data they needed to make the story. I also helped merge different data sets in order to get more accurate and impactful information for the story. 

How did you and the team go about collecting the data?

Khalil: The list of PPP loans provided by the State of Massachusetts was found online, however this data set did not contain a lot of information regarding the recipient. Since the goal of the project was to see if there was any disparity, we had to join this data with other data sets that might provide us with more information. To do that, we used the minority owned registered business data set to get a sense on how the loans were spread across different businesses. 

What was it like working with COM students? 

Khalil: It was interesting listening to the different angles COM students wanted to approach the story from. It is always nice to collaborate with people from different backgrounds and majors. 

What impact do you hope this story has? 

Khalil: I hope this story can make an impact on the second round of PPP loans that are going to be given, such that there is much less disparity in that round. 

Would you take on another investigative piece like this in the future?

Khalil: Yes, for sure. I enjoyed the experience of developing a story with the COM students. It is nice to see how data can be turned around and published to become a meaningful and impactful story. 

For more on the Justice Media co-Lab, click here.