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New edition of Data Journalism Handbook to explore journalistic interventions in the data society

- January 12, 2018 in Data Journalism, data journalism handbook, data literacy, journalism, Open Access

This blog has been reposted from The first edition of The Data Journalism Handbook has been widely used and widely cited by students, practitioners and researchers alike, serving as both textbook and sourcebook for an emerging field. It has been translated into over 12 languages – including Arabic, Chinese, Czech, French, Georgian, Greek, Italian, Macedonian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Ukrainian – and is used for teaching at many leading universities, as well as teaching and training centres around the world. A huge amount has happened in the field since the first edition in 2012. The Panama Papers project undertook an unprecedented international collaboration around a major database of leaked information about tax havens and offshore financial activity. Projects such as The Migrants Files, The Guardian’s The Counted and ProPublica’s Electionland have shown how journalists are not just using and presenting data, but also creating and assembling it themselves in order to improve data journalistic coverage of issues they are reporting on.

The Migrants’ Files saw journalists in 15 countries work together to create a database of people who died in their attempt to reach or stay in Europe.

Changes in digital technologies have enabled the development of formats for storytelling, interactivity and engagement with the assistance of drones, crowdsourcing tools, satellite data, social media data and bespoke software tools for data collection, analysis, visualisation and exploration. Data journalists are not simply using data as a source, they are also increasingly investigating, interrogating and intervening around the practices, platforms, algorithms and devices through which it is created, circulated and put to work in the world. They are creatively developing techniques and approaches which are adapted to very different kinds of social, cultural, economic, technological and political settings and challenges. Five years after its publication, we are developing a revised second edition, which will be published as an open access book with an innovative academic press. The new edition will be significantly overhauled to reflect these developments. It will complement the first edition with an examination of the current state of data journalism which is at once practical and reflective, profiling emerging practices and projects as well as their broader consequences.

“The Infinite Campaign” by Sam Lavigne (New Inquiry) repurposes ad creation data in order to explore “the bizarre rubrics Twitter uses to render its users legible”.

Contributors to the first edition include representatives from some of the world’s best-known newsrooms data journalism organisations, including the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, the Chicago Tribune, Deutsche Welle, The Guardian, the Financial Times, Helsingin Sanomat, La Nacion, the New York Times, ProPublica, the Washington Post, the Texas Tribune, Verdens Gang, Wales Online, Zeit Online and many others. The new edition will include contributions from both leading practitioners and leading researchers of data journalism, exploring a diverse constellation of projects, methods and techniques in this field from voices and initiatives around the world. We are working hard to ensure a good balance of gender, geography and themes. Our approach in the new edition draws on the notion of “critical technical practice” from Philip Agre, which he formulates as an attempt to have “one foot planted in the craft work of design and the other foot planted in the reflexive work of critique” (1997). Similarly, we wish to provide an introduction to a major new area of journalism practice which is at once critically reflective and practical. The book will offer reflection from leading practitioners on their experiments and experiences, as well as fresh perspectives on the practical considerations of research on the field from leading scholars. The structure of the book reflects different ways of seeing and understanding contemporary data journalism practices and projects. The introduction highlights the renewed relevance of a book on data journalism in the current so-called “post-truth” moment, examining the resurgence of interest in data journalism, fact-checking and strengthening the capacities of “facty” publics in response to fears about “alternative facts” and the speculation about a breakdown of trust in experts and institutions of science, policy, law, media and democracy. As well as reviewing a variety of critical responses to data journalism and associated forms of datafication, it looks at how this field may nevertheless constitute an interesting site of progressive social experimentation, participation and intervention. The first section on “data journalism in context” will review histories, geographies, economics and politics of data journalism – drawing on leading studies in these areas. The second section on “data journalism practices” will look at a variety of practices for assembling data, working with data, making sense with data and organising data journalism from around the world. This includes a wide variety of case studies – including the use of social media data, investigations into algorithms and fake news, the use of networks, open source coding practices and emerging forms of storytelling through news apps and data animations. Other chapters look at infrastructures for collaboration, as well as creative responses to disappearing data and limited connectivity. The third and final section on “what does data journalism do?”, examines the social life of data journalism projects, including everyday encounters with visualisations, organising collaborations across fields, the impacts of data projects in various settings, and how data journalism can constitute a form of “data activism”. As well as providing a rich account of the state of the field, the book is also intended to inspire and inform “experiments in participation” between journalists, researchers, civil society groups and their various publics. This aspiration is partly informed by approaches to participatory design and research from both science and technology studies as well as more recent digital methods research. Through the book we thus aim to explore not only what data journalism initiatives do, but how they might be done differently in order to facilitate vital public debates about both the future of the data society as well as the significant global challenges that we currently face.

What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation? (1863)

- March 21, 2017 in antebellum, civil war, emancipation, gambling, georgia, journalism, plantation, rain, slave auctions, slave plantations, slavery

A scathing article exposing the horrors of a the biggest slave auction in American history.

What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation? (1863)

- March 21, 2017 in antebellum, civil war, emancipation, gambling, georgia, journalism, plantation, rain, slave auctions, slave plantations, slavery

A scathing article exposing the horrors of a the biggest slave auction in American history.

What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation? (1863)

- March 21, 2017 in antebellum, civil war, emancipation, gambling, georgia, journalism, plantation, rain, slave auctions, slave plantations, slavery

A scathing article exposing the horrors of a the biggest slave auction in American history.

What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation? (1863)

- March 21, 2017 in antebellum, civil war, emancipation, gambling, georgia, journalism, plantation, rain, slave auctions, slave plantations, slavery

A scathing article exposing the horrors of a the biggest slave auction in American history.

Some Misconceptions about Data Journalism

- October 27, 2016 in advocacy, Data Journalism, Hacktivism, journalism, Open Data

This blog originally appeared on Medium,


In the past few years, a new discipline in journalism is slowly getting more and more followers — a discipline commonly known as ‘data journalism’. These so-called ‘data journalists’ are usually envisioned as the younger, tech savvy journalists, ones that are not afraid to analyse data, understand how computer code works and simply love these colourful and detailed visualisations.

On the other end of the scale are the non-data-journalists . We usually imagine them, still using a phone and Rolodex as they simply don’t get email — and the last technological leap they made was when the mechanical typewriters were replaced by computerised word processors.

Moving away from these simplistic (even stereotypical) dichotomies into a better understanding of what a data journalist actually looks like, will do justice to the actual hard-working data-journalists out there as well as take this movement forward and make it more open and inclusive.

The Python vs. Rolodex dilemma

Let’s begin with the ground truth about the journalism trade: Journalism is all about telling a story, and the best stories are ones that revolve around humans, not numbers.

This basic fact was true a hundred years ago, and is not about to change — even if technology does. For this reason, the best journalists will always be the masters of words; those who have the best understanding of people and what makes them tick. It is the unfortunate truth that the benefit of knowing how to work with data will always come after that.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly a place for all the ‘visualisation-oriented journalists’ (or “visi-journalists”). That’s because sometimes the data is the story. Sometimes, the fact that some new data is available to the public is newsworthy. Sometimes, some hard-to-find, hidden links in a large dataset are the scoop. Sometimes, a subject is too technical and complex that only a super-interactive visualisation is the only way to actually explain it. But most times, this is not the case.

So we have on one end of the spectrum, that old school journalist with her Rolodex, holding a precious network of high-ranking sources. On the other extreme, a journalist that also codes and wrangles data, trying to find a corruption case by sifting through publicly available data using a custom made Python script. But in between these two extremes, lies a vast range of hard-working journalists, reporting on the day to day happenings in politics, economy, foreign affairs and domestic issues. These journalists don’t have any sources in any high places, and have never heard of Python.

Yet, this majority of journalists is mostly ignored by the data journalism movement — which is a shame, as these are the ones most likely to benefit from it and advance it the most.

A website is not a source

Flashback to five years ago — I’m one of the few founding-volunteers of an open-data NGO in Israel, “The Public Knowledge Workshop”. One of our first projects was called “The Open Budget” — a website who took the publicly available (but hard-to-understand) national budget data and presented it in a feature-rich, user friendly website.

At that time, we tried to meet with as many journalists as we could to tell them about the new budget website — and not many would spare an hour of their busy schedules for some geeks from an unknown NGO. We would show them how easy it was to find information and visualise it in an instant. Then we would ask them whether they might consider using our website by themselves for their work.

A common answer that took me by quite a surprise always went along the lines of “That is very nice indeed but I don’t need your website as I have my sources in the Ministry of Finance and they get me any data I need”. The fact that the data was lying there, within a mouse-click’s reach, and they still wouldn’t use it — simply baffled me. It took me some time to understand why it made perfect sense.

Nevertheless, we would offer ourselves to these journalists as domain experts in understanding and analysing government data (or even knowing where to find that data) — and as volunteer ‘data wranglers’. In theory, it was supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship: they needed help with getting the right data in their stories, and we were a young NGO, hungry for some media spotlight. In practice, this situation resulted in too many articles where we would do the work but would not be credited for it. Journalists would ask for some budget related data analysed for an article with a tight deadline. We would do our part, only to find the data attributed in the printed paper to the Ministry of Finance. As annoying as it was, they would always claim that they cannot give us credit as “No one knows who you are. We need someone with some credibility”…

Getting an answer is a human thing

So what is the reason, really, that journalists will not use an official government open-data web-site to get data and for fact-checking?

I remember one time a journalist calling me with a very simple question:

– ‘Can you tell me the total size of this year’s national budget?’ – ’Sure, but did you try our website? It’s the one single big number right there on the homepage.’ – ‘Umm… there are a few other numbers there. Can you please copy-paste the correct one and send it to me in an email?’

And so I did.

Was that reporter lazy? Perhaps. But it wasn’t just that. As it turns out, it’s not just a matter of credibility — it’s also a matter of attribution. Journalistic reporting is a delicate art of telling a narrative using only “facts”, not the journalist’s own personal opinions. Journalistic facts (which may be just someone else’s opinion) need to always be attributed to someone, be it a person or an organisation.

So you’d get sayings similar to this: ‘according to this NGO, spending on health in the national budget is 20%’. This sort of wording leaves room for other parties to claim the analysis was wrong and the actual number is different. It keeps journalists free from biases — and from accusations of such biases — while still promoting a specific world view.

The only catch is that this only works if they are solely reporting these interpretations — not making them.

Getting the right answer is also a human thing

As time passed and the number of journalists seeking our help constantly grew, a new understanding slowly emerged. We were no longer just the geeks with the best budget data in town, but we became also the geeks that know the most about the intricacies of the budgeting cycle, tenders and procurement processes.

Geeks in action

All of a sudden we were able to answer more vague questions from journalists. Take this question as an example – “how much money is a specific company getting from the government?”. To answer that, you first need to know what options there are to ‘get money from the government’ (there are at least three or four). Then you need to know how to query the data correctly to find the actual data rows that answer the question. You might find that a single company is in fact more than one legal entity. You could discover that it’s being called differently in different data sources. Some data sources might contain data that’s partly overlapping. And after all that work you still need to produce an answer that is (most likely) correct and you can wholeheartedly stand behind it.

Getting to such a level of expertise is not something that happens in a day. This is another reason why open-data portals are simply not that useful for journalists. Even if the journalist has a clue as to which dataset contains an answer to her question — which is rarely the case, nor that a single dataset will hold the answer — it’s not enough to see the data, you need to make sense out of it. You need to understand the context. You need to know what it really means — and for that, you need an expert.

When Open Data takes the Lead

With deep knowledge of data, arrive interesting findings. Most are standard cases of negligence with public funds. Some are interesting insights regarding money flows that are only visible when analysing the ‘big picture’. Only rarely you find small acts of corruption. We believed that each of these findings was newsworthy, and we would try to find journalists that might take our leads and develop them into a complete story.

But hard as we tried, our efforts were in vain — none of the methods we tried seemed to be working. We tweeted our findings, wrote about them in our blog, pushed them hard through facebook — we even got a Telegram bot pushing algorithmically detected suspicious procurements in real time! But journalists were not impressed.

On other instances, we managed to get a specific journalist interested in a story. The only problem was that sometimes they would hold on that piece of information for weeks without doing anything with it until it became irrelevant — thus losing our chance to use it anywhere else.

At that point we decided to get some help from an expert, and hired a PR manager to help our efforts to get the message across. Seeing him work with journalists left me in awe: his ability to match the right story to the correct person, ensure we were always credited properly, that stories were written promptly was something we’d never seen. And the best part was how he was leveraging his many connections to make journalists come to us for the next story instead of the other way round.

But he also made us change our ways a little bit — as good leads needed to be kept secret until a good match was found. Exclusivity and patience bought us larger media coverage and a wider reach — but with the price of compromising on our open-data and transparency ideologies.

Data is a Source

Back to present day.

We still meet journalists on a regular basis. and although it’s now easier to get their attention, most of them would still start our meetings with a skeptical approach. They look as if they wonder ‘what are they trying to sell me?’ and ‘how on earth these geeks could have anything to do with my work?’.

But then we start talking — first we tell them about our different projects and areas of expertise, and the conversation flows to what they’re interested in: what are the ideas they’re trying to promote? which big projects they’ve always dreamt of doing but never had the data? They tell us about all their attempts to get data from the government through FOIA requests that ended in hitting brick walls.

That’s usually the point where I take out my laptop. They seem baffled when I start typing a few SQL commands on my terminal, and utterly surprised when after two or three minutes I present them with a graph of what they were looking for. “Wow, I didn’t know it was even possible… and all of that just from data that’s out there?” they say, with a smile and a new sparkle in their eyes. And that’s when I know — a new data-journalist was born.

Every once in a while, a beautifully interactive data visualisation project is published by one of the media outlets. Everybody applauds the “innovative use of the medium” and the “fine example of data-journalism” — and I’m also impressed! — but to me this is simply forgetting all these other journalists who made that leap into the world of data.

These journalists understand that leads come not just from sources in the government, but also from algorithms analysing CSV files. They cautiously learn to link to the government data portals as proof for their claims. They take data and make it a part of their story.

These are the true heroes of the data-journalism revolution. And the motto of this revolution cannot be ‘Visualise More!’ or ‘Use Big Data!’ — it must be: ‘Data is a Source’.

Thanks to Paul Walsh for the encouragement and to Nir Hirshman for being that awesome PR guy…

Data journalism in the Philippines: changing the open data landscape

- July 13, 2015 in Data, Data Journalism, journalism, Open Data, philippines

IMG_2343 Transparency, accountability and open data in the Philippines have just become more palpable to citizens and journalists alike. Open Knowledge/School of Data joined forces with the World Bank and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism(PCIJ) to launch a five-month training program for 34 journalists from 12 media organizations in the country. The program was kickstarted this morning in a convention in Manila, with strong support of the Philippine government. The event gathered 87 people from all over the country and discussed the challenges and the potential collaboration efforts between civil society and the government to make the Philippines more transparent and accountable through open data. The panel was lead by Malou Mangahas, executive director of the PCIJ, who reflected on the timing and relevance of the program to the Philippines, because of the coming elections. “We’re facing big changes in leadership in the country and we need to think about the way we do conversations around public policies”, she said. “Data could be the narrative that binds us all”.

The Philippines has made remarkable efforts in recent years to open its data. In 2010 the government made a commitment to characterize itself by transparency and accountability, leading to its participation in the foundation of the Open Government Partnership in 2011 with seven other countries, including Brazil and the United States. Within the country, the most visible impact of that commitment was seen two years later with the creation of the Open Data Philippines and its Open Data Portal in the 2014. “The goal is to have more than 2000 datasets published by the end of this year”, said Usec Bon Moya, who leads the Open Data Task Force. Moya admits the number is still “a drop in the ocean of Philippine data” and welcomed the contribution of journalists and civil society activists to help the government find the data that is relevant to all stakeholders. “We need your input to make our data more consistent and publish more datasets”, he said.

One of the issues acknowledged by the panel is the hard time professionals and citizens have to understand and work with data. A lot of times stakeholders don’t have a clear grasp of how the government works. Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, from the Commission on Audit, said one way to tackle this problem is to engage citizens to work with the government in a participatory process, like the Civil Participatory Audits. “When citizens work together with auditors, they feel stimulated to get to know more the government and its programs”, she said. “The first step to achieve transparency is to show everybody we have nothing to hide” Keneth Abante, Department of Finance, Philippines It goes a long way if the government itself is willing to open its data, regardless of public pressure. Kenneth Abante, from the Department of Finance knows that and showed the audience ways journalists can help the office identify frauds and get smuggles just by analysing the data they publish. “The first step to achieve transparency is to show everybody we have nothing to hide”, he said. “We release every week and month important data that can be mined by journalists and activists.” To have a taste of how to take Mr. Abante’s invitation seriously and actually find stories in data that is already published in the Philippines, Kai Kaiser, senior economist from the World Bank, walked through a mini-data investigation. Using open data about tobacco, Kaiser raised questions about components that are imported to the Philippines and the relationship between the values declared by importing companies and the actual prices in the market. “That’s how you can find holes and corruption in the system”, he said.  Kaiser’s example was picked up by Rogier van den Brink, also from the World Bank, to show how the concept of Open Government can lead to better democracies and better relationships between governments and its citizens. Nevertheless, Mr. Brink reminded the audience that transparency is not enough. “The idea of open data is potentially transformative, but more needs to be done”, he said. “We need to collect and give feedback at all times and we also need to follow up on our initiatives.” After the conference, the 34 journalists will participate in a 3-day hands on training about data analysis, cleaning, scraping and visualisation. The workshop will be lead by our own Sam Leon, School of Data trainer and data analyst. The training is just the beginning of a 5 month process in which the journalists will have conference calls with Open Knowledge/School of Data to help on their data investigations. Ideally each group of journalists will have produced a data driven investigation by the end of the program using the skills and tools presented during the workshops and mentoring sessions. “We are very excited and looking forward to see which stories are hidden in the Philippine open data landscape”, said Sam. Flattr this!

Se reanuda el Grupo de Trabajo de Gobierno Abierto

- June 5, 2015 in #transparencia #periodismo #investigación, Evento, journalism, opendata, opengov, openknowledge

Luego del cambio del Jefe de Gabinete de Nación, el paso de los meses, se reanudaron los encuentros del Grupo de Trabajo Abierto.
Captura de pantalla 2015-06-05 a las 3.13.00
Cada 15 días, la Coordinación de Gobierno Abierto de Nación junto a organizaciones de la Sociedad Civil se reúnen en el marco del Foro de Gobierno Abierto. En la último encuentro  algunos de los temas a tratar fueron:
–  Presentación de los nuevos integrantes de la Coordinación de Gobierno Abierto.
–  Situación y dinámica de trabajo sobre el II Plan de acción ante la Alianza para el Gobierno Abierto (AGA).
–  Selección de iniciativas. Premios de Gobierno Abierto.
–  Situación del informe de auditoría externa del 1er plan de acción.
–  Participación de Argentina en la Red de Gobierno Abierto en Asunción – Paraguay.
Desde Open Knowledge Argentina estaremos participando en la reuniones.

Datos abiertos Vs Acceso a la información

- June 5, 2015 in #transparencia #periodismo, #transparencia #periodismo #investigación, ddj, hackaton, journalism, Noticia, opendata, opengov, openknowledge

Por Silvana Fumega – Análisis de los aspectos de los movimientos de datos abiertos vs. el de acceso a la información pública. Los invito a leer el informe de Silvana que detalla las diferencias y puntos de relación entre las comunidad de datos abiertos y las de acceso a la información.   Captura de pantalla 2015-06-05 a las 2.45.52

Historias periodísticas con datos abiertos

- June 5, 2015 in #transparencia #periodismo #investigación, ddj, journalism, opendata, opengov, openknowledge, Periodismo de datos

En este artículo resumimos seis historias periodísticas basadas en datos abiertos que se publicaron en el Diario La Capital de Mar del Plata. Algunas de estas historias se gestaron durante el Primer Hackaton de Innovación Ciudadana de Mar del Plata en agosto de 2014, donde se creó el primer grupo de periodismo de datos de la ciudad.
Durante aquel hackaton se analizaron datos del Centro de Atención al Vecino y el Centro de Análisis Estratégico del Delito, y se exploraron los reclamos de las llamadas telefónicas de los vecinos de todo un año. Más tarde, esa información se convirtió en mapas, gráficos, líneas de tiempo y visualizaciones que nos permitieron generar algunas noticias impactantes sobre la ciudad de Mar del Plata. Te contamos las más interesantes:
Mapear los homicidios en una ciudad
El análisis de los datos sobre homicidios reveló que el 76% de las víctimas de homicidios dolosos fueron asesinadas por otras personas conocidas y que, mayoritariamente, los hechos se concentraron en la periferia de la ciudad los domingos.
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(Por Gabriel Coronello) Si queres conocer todas las notas periodísticas poder seguir leyendo en el blog del BID: Open Knowlegde