Data driven journalism is an opportunity, not a fad

Hassel english



In Latin America, Data driven journalism (DDJ) is not a fad. It is the present and future of journalism. It is a necessity, an opportunity and a constant state of innovation.

DDJ is a necessity because it ensures the precision and trustworthiness of data that editors will present (as a fact) to their readership.

They do not depend on a source that gives them “processed numbers” and are less likely to biases or inaccuracies.

Traditionally, journalists go to a source, which we sometimes wrongfully call “expert”; we believe in what it says, believe it to be true, and reproduce its conclusions. But, how do we really know that the numbers they have given us are true if we have not examined, corroborated, and validated them ourselves?

This is a need that data journalism helps to solve if we, as journalists, really want to do a good job and ensure the public interest.

Data journalism is also an opportunity because we are constantly forced to innovate, to better understand our audience and how they interact with information. It forces us to think about each publication, about the best way to tell or communicate the story behind the data.

There are stories that given the volume of data involved, are impossible to be told in a text; but if we have an interactive display we can generate information and knowledge at a glance.

Data journalism makes available to people the conclusions based on data analysis that do not only show the conclusions of the journalist, but also allow people to interact, find, and create their own story.

As an example of that, I invite you to explore this app we created in the Data Intelligence Unit of La Nación newspaper. It is called Decida por su cantón (Decide for your county) an interactive application that was created with one goal: to offer voters all possible public information about the 605 candidates vying to occupy a hall in the country.

There, you can check the legal history of each candidates. In addition, you will find the details of those cases in which the National Comptroller’s Bureau punished a group of candidates because of misconduct in public office.

The application also reveals which candidates have outstanding debts to the Costa Rican Social Security and there is far too much information. This project required the construction of five different databases.


input to investigative journalism

Journalism based on databases analysis is another input to investigative journalism. By immersing ourselves in these large databases, we are likely to discover hidden stories that affect or are of public interest. It is also likely that someone with power might think that it is better to keep such information hidden.

Traditionally, investigative units were or are made up of journalists only. Data journalism units are instead multidisciplinary; in them we can find engineers, developers, interactive designers, and journalists with background in research, but also with knowledge of statistics, data mining, data analysis techniques, and software management skills.

Is it possible to find and tell stories from databases only?

Data journalism and other types of journalism are driven by observing a fact, something that calls our attention and generates a wave of questions. When that happens, we search databases to find answers, as deep as possible, to our questions. In the process, we often discover other stories that may be of equal or greater value than the first. Yes, you can find dozens of stories in databases.

When telling them, my recommendation is to do it always looking at the human side. Remember that behind every figure there are people suffering from violence, death in the family, or disease.

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