Across the Atlantic: Journalism++ opens its first chapter outside of Europe

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Journalism++, the data journalism agency, opens its first chapter outside of Europe: Jornalismo++ São Paulo, also the first data journalism agency in Brazil. The Brazilian office will strenghthen current data journalism teams and lead projects of data-storytelling for news media organisations in the region, adding up to J++’s portfolio of award winning projects such as Datawrapper, Detective.io and Broken Promises.

Brazilian newsrooms are catching up to the data journalism revolution, although most of them still don’t have the resources to hire professionals from different backgrounds, such as Computer and Data Science, Design and Social Network Analysis, to lead data-driven investigations. Jornalismo++ São Paulo is an effort to fill this gap with a handpicked team of experts with an extensive experience in major Brazilian newsrooms and data journalism projects. “We want to bring data journalism to Brazil, helping newsrooms that want to do good journalism with data, but don’t have the manpower to do it in the short term”, says Marco Túlio Pires, journalist and programmer, one of the founders of the chapter in São Paulo.

Besides Marco Túlio Pires, who also coordinates School of Data Brazil, the team in São Paulo is lead by four other professionals: Juan Torres, editor of city’s desk at the Correio newspaper, the biggest in Salvador; Natália Mazotte, teacher assistant at the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and also School of Data Brazil coordinator; Tiago Mali, Training Director at Brazil’s Association for Investigative Journalism; and Thomaz Rezende, who worked as a programmer and designer for VEJA Magazine.

The name of the agency is a pun between a common operator in programming languages and journalism itself. “The operator ‘++’ means ‘plus one’ to a certain numeric variable. In other words, we want Jornalismo++ to go beyond traditional journalism, even beyond what’s already on the web. In our work, we increment journalism with skills from other areas, such as Computer Science, Design and Data Analysis”, explains Natália.

Jornalismo++ São Paulo will also maintain a blog about Data Journalism with the latest updates in the field for a Portuguese-speaking audience. For more information about J++ São Paulo visit their website:

Analysing journalistic data with detective.io

detectiveioNo doubt, the power of the internet has changed profoundly the way in which journalists gather their information. To keep up with the growing amount of data digitally available, more and more tools for data-journalists are being developed. They help facing the challenge of handling vast amounts of data and the subsequent extraction of relevant information (here you can find our little collection of useful tools).

One powerful tool is detective.io, a platform that allows you to store and mine all the data you have collected on a precise topic. Developed by Journalism++, a Berlin- and Paris-based agency for data-journalism, it was launched one year ago.

By now, several investigations that used the tool have made headlines in Europe, amongst others The Belarus Network, an investigation about Belarus’ president Alexander Lukashenko and the country’s elite affairs by French news channel France24, and, most notably, The Migrants Files, a database on the more than 25,000 migrants who have died on their way to Europe since 2000. According to the developers at Journalism++, the applied methodology, measuring the actual casualty rate per migration route – has now been picked up by UNHCR and IOM. Another example is a still ongoing investigation on police violence, started by NU.nl, the main news website in the Netherlands.

What does detective.io do?

Basically, detective.io lets you upload and store your data and search relationships in it bywith a graph search using some network analyses. The tool, which is open source and still a beta version, structures and maps relationships between subjects of an investigation. This can be a vast number of entities such as organizations, countries, people and events.

In its basic version, the tool offers three generic data schemes that help structuring the data you have – for instance on a corporate network, the respective ownerships, branches, individuals involved and so on. To deal with more complex datasets, a customized data scheme is needed. There is no need for special skills to use detective.io but one needs to think hard about what elements of information are needed for the analysis before creating the data structure. However, such custom data schemes are not included in the basic version. The team at Detective.io offers several paid plans that include additional and/or customized data schemes and respective customer support.

There are special offers for NGOs and investigative journalists, too.

Open Steps Directory - Detective.io 2014-11-09 13-56-12One powerful asset of detective.io is that investigations can be shared with collaborators and/or made public. Here you can have a look at what our Open Knowledge Directory looks like on detective.io and explore the relations of organizations and individuals by using the graph search.

Currently, the developers at Journalism++ are working on a new GUI/frontend for detective.io that will allow every user to edit the data schemes by themselves.

Here you can request an account for the beta version and if you are interested to collaborate in the development of detective.io, you can find the tool’s GitHub here.

Infogr.am Ambassador Eva Constantaras helps Kenyan journalists explain lag in development in data driven way

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For four days, 14 journalists from North Rift Kenya came together for a data journalism workshop led by Internews data journalism trainers Eva Constantaras and Dorothy Otieno. They investigated how to produce more in-depth stories on health and education topics through data journalism.

We were happy to contribute free Infogr.am Pro accounts to participants who went on to produce their own data visualisations following the training. The distance from Kenya’s open data community in Nairobi makes it challenging for journalists from rural areas to produce data stories after such workshops because of access to data, trainers and editors, who provide the training, mentoring and support needed to produce data journalism.

Here are some of the outcomes:

Michael W. Odhiambo (@mowesonga), a correspondent for the Standard, explored data on education levels in his county and the constituencies within it. He found that one constituency was pulling up the average for the entire county and the rest lagged behind. He is currently looking into whether the public budget for maternal healthcare is adequate for the treatment of complications such as fistulas.

Caleb Kemboi (@drkemboi) a journalist with Thomson Reuters explored a dataset that measured basic literacy and numeracy skills among school-age children. His visualisation focuses on the lowest performing constituencies in the region. His current investigations seeks to identify the reasons behind the school drop out rate among girls in the North Rift Region.

Joshua Cheloti (@CeejayCheloti) is a radio journalist with Biblia Husema Broadcasting, a radio station in Eldoret. His visualisation identifies a correlation between hostile environments and poor performance on numeracy and literacy exams.


Cheloti is committed to human interest reporting.  He said, “Before the training I feared stories involving data, but now I enjoy such stories as I can professionally analyse the data and use it to come up with a radio story that can easily be understood by my audience.” His next investigation looks at rising cases of chronic diseases in North Rift and the funds and facilities to treat them.

Each of the 14 participants will develop one data-driven story over the next month with a special focus on simplifying numbers, understanding the source of the data and putting breaking health and education stories into context using data.  They will also participate in a follow up training to see what questions their own investigations raised and which data they can use to develop health and education beat reporting.

About Eva:

Eva Constantaras (@evaconstantaras) is the Internews Data Journalism Advisor and specialises in cross-border journalism projects to combat corruption and encourage transparency. She has managed projects and reported from across Latin America, Asia and East Africa on topics ranging from displacement and kidnapping by organised crime networks to extractive industries and election violence.  Her reporting has appeared in media outlets including El Mundo and El Confidencial in Spain and the Seattle Times and El Tiempo in the Americas.

Infogr.am Ambassador Program:

Infogr.am Ambassadors bring the power of data visualisation to journalists, activists, communication officers, university students and classroom teachers all over the world. The network is designed to enhance data literacy while also encourage the knowledge sharing between the program members. Interested to join? Ask [email protected] for more details.

Workshop @ HacksHackersLima, Lima, Peru

DSCF8085After Brazil, it is time for Open Steps to document Open Knowledge projects in Peru, the last country on a list of 24 travelled since the journey began back in July 2013.

In the city of Lima, we had the pleasure to organise our Open Data visualisation workshop with the newly created local chapter of HacksHackers, and the evening, since most of the attendees where journalists, was mainly focused on data-journalism.

For those who do not know HacksHackers yet; it is a global network bringing the so called Hacks (journalists) and Hackers (software developers) together with the purpose of rethinking the future of news and information.

Within only one week since its official launch, HackHackersLima has attracted the attention of many enthusiasts in the Peruvian capital and are already preparing great actions such as an upcoming Hackathon taking place in several cities from South America at the same time. This event, conceived by the HacksHackers network has the title of “La ruta del dinero” and aims to research on how public money is being used in the participant countries.

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At the end of our event, during the great debate we enjoyed, enthusiastic participants could give us an insight on the status of Open Data/Open Government initiatives at both the city and the country level. We felt grateful to count with the contribution of Leonardo León, key person on the implementation of the Open Data platform of the municipality, which by the way is built on Junar. Leonardo shared with us lots of details about the administration’s actions to encourage transparency, economic development and citizen participation through Open Government mechanisms. In this line, already 3 hackathons have taken place in the city where some great apps got built on top of the data available. We would like to mention Mi Canasta, a web platform built by Carlos Salvatierra and his team at the FabLab UNI, where citizens stay informed about prices and availability of sessional products in the wholesale market. Looking at the future, we experienced that a new law has been passed on the municipality which will set a more solid base for the continuation of the measures already taken. As it happens in Buenos Aires, Lima represents a model for further implementations by other regions or at national level.

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Although Peru is part of the Open Government Initiative and the OGP since April 2012 and counts with FOI law since 2002, there is still a lot to do at the country level. According to the OGP report, the government is now preparing its 2nd action plan and hopefully the actual site dedicated for transparency will be improved.

We want to thank again the team at HacksHackersLima and Open Data Peru for the great organisation. They are the proof of how enthusiastic journalists, activists and hackers are making Latin America become one of the most active spots in terms on civic activism.

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Meeting @ La Nación Data, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Data journalism is one of the topics we have been continuously following along our journey, but we never had the opportunity to visit a newsroom yet. This finally happened last week with our meeting at La Nación in Buenos Aires. Belonging to the oldest newspapers in Argentina, La Nación has been pioneering in technology in the last years: it is not only one of the first newspapers launching its online edition in 1995, but also it counts with a dedicated and passionate team focusing their work on Open Data. This fact is actually what brought us there.

LNdata_250px_400x400La Nación Data (LNData) was founded as an internal section in 2010 with the aim to use and promote the power of Open Data for journalistic purposes. They created their own Open Data platform where users can find and download numerous datasets which contain valuable information relating the argentinian citizens. As Digital Media Researcher Flor Coelho explained us, there is a huge effort behind each collection of data released on the platform. Relevant numbers, as those showing the dramatic variation of the inflation rates, cannot be found in such an usable form in other sources.

 Their efforts have been already acknowledged through several Data Journalism Awards, such as the Online Journalism Award of the University of Miami and GEN‘s Data Journalism Award. The latter, received in 2013 for their project “Gastos del Senado 2004-2013”. By extracting and analysing the data from over 33.000 scanned documents downloaded from governmental sites, the investigation team could find out several and major irregularities involving public funds. We invite you to watch the video below to get more detailed information.

After the impact of such results, and having still a big amount of documents to analyse, LNData did not stop there and had the genius idea to encourage citizens to participate in the investigation process. Bildschirmfoto 2014-04-13 um 19.34.45This is how VozData got created, a platform where everyone can help gathering information from those remaining papers. Since its launch, over 350 citizens have engaged themselves freeing the data from more than 3400 scanned documents. The goal is to turn the contents into useful data, giving the possibility to analyse it accurately thus bringing transparency on how public money is being used. A reason big enough to motivate users to invest their time on this collaborative challenge. The code of the site will be released as Open Source as soon as the last features get implemented and bugs fixed.

Another example of the great work LNData does in the field of Data journalism is the research on the number of casualties due to the floods that stroke the city of La Plata on the 2nd of April 2013. An efficient analysis and visualisation of the information contained in death records revealed more victims than the public authorities announced first. The publication of the results led to a review of the official number of deaths.

Besides their journalistic research, LNData puts lots of efforts on advocating for Open Data, sharing their experience with others. Events are regularly organised, not only intern trainings but also public workshops and conferences such as the Datafest. With an upcoming third edition taking place in October 2014, this will be fantastic opportunity for journalists and communication experts, developers, designers and everyone interested on the topic to exchange, learn and bring out new ideas. Save the date if you happen to be in Buenos Aires!

DataBootcamp 12th-14th March @ Montevideo, Uruguay

DSCF6474For the second time in South America (the first was last June in Bolivia), the World Bank launched last week a 3-days DataBootcamp in Uruguay, Montevideo, co-organised with the British Embassy and AGESIC, the Uruguayan Agency for E-government. This free data training, which already took place several times in african countries and Nepal, is the place to be if you want to learn how to make use of the technologies to work with data. With always a fix number of 25 journalists, 25 designers and 25 developers; the aim of this conference is to bring participants digital tools they can use as well in their daily work as in independent projects. That, using visualisations and Open Data sources. Because learning by doing is the most effective way, participants had to work in small groups and submit a data project that address a specific problem in Uruguay. All projects were presented at the end of the 3rd day, concurring for a 2000$ grant offered by the organisers to implement it. There were plenty of creative and fantastic ideas, so not surprising that it was hard for the jury to select just one of them. ¿Quién paga? won the price, a project whose aim is to analyse and visualise data on the financing of the upcoming election campaign 2014.

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Invited to join the experts team, we ran two presentations: the first on CartoDB, the online tool to visualize georeferenced data on a map. The second was a summary of the most exciting organisations and projects we have discovered and documented during our journey so far, and we have no doubt this source of inspiration can give birth in the future to promising Uruguayan initiatives.

In Uruguay, there is FOI since 2008 which guarantees the free access to public data. A governmental Open Data platform was initiated by AGESIC in 2010 and, as Virginia Pardo (director of the E-Citizenship department) states, the site should contain 120 datasets by the end of this year, prioritising quality over quantity. Also, a citizens group named DATA, co-founded in 2009 by two of the experts present at the DataBootcamp, works on making Open Data more known and efficiently used in Uruguay. Because there is no sense to release data if it is not used afterwards. DATA hosts the regular “cafés de data”, meet-ups in Montevideo for collaborative projects, and co-organised last year, together with the chilean fellows from Ciudadano Intelligente, the pan-Latinamerica ABRE LATAM conference on Open Data. Small country, but lots of remarkable initiatives!

The 3 days have been incredibly enriching and we decided to record a short video to share with you these moments. We invite you to watch it and get a feeling of this great DataBootcamp!

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/89308612[/vimeo]

Workshops @DMC and @GIZ, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

DSCF4211The Department of Media and Communication (DMC) of the Royal University of Phnom Penh is the single education centre across Cambodia providing a training ground for journalists and communication practitioners. The director and faculty members have a big interest in Data journalism and we were asked to present the topic at the weekly guest lecture last friday. We started researching Data journalism some weeks ago when we documented journalism++, so this invitation was a great opportunity to extend our presentation with new material and discuss with around sixty DMC cambodian students, from all of the four courses that compose their studies. The interest they showed was great and although the topic is new, the session was very constructive.

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DSCF4244But the day was not over yet, since we conducted another session in the afternoon. This time for the Civil Peace Service (CPS) group of the GIZ, the german national agency for international cooperation which focus its work in developing countries. The CPS team in Cambodia partners with cambodian civil society and government institutions to carry out outreach and education about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. The expectations of this smaller group of attendees were basically to learn more about tools and methodologies available for them to work more efficiently with the data they collect. Visualisation and management of data was also a central point of the debate. After speaking about the insights of existing Open Data platforms, we experienced that NGOs in Phnom Penh working on similar issues could actually profit from a common database to share documentation. Participants agreed that such a solution could facilitate collaborative work and the way their generated contents get published.

Slides of the presentation
Slides of the presentation

Interview with Journalism++ @ Paris/Berlin, France/Germany

logo_jppJournalism++ is a network of data-journalists and developers which has chapters in five cities across Europe. With the goal of promoting the use of data and its visualisation for journalistic purposes, they create Open Source tools, organise trainings and consult other organisations in this area.

We contacted Nicolas Kayser-Bril, one of its co-founders, and asked him to give us an inside view about his company and the concept of data-journalism. Covering the theory, how data is currently being used to enhance story-telling, and the advantages for journalists working with Open Source and Open Data, this interview exposes a topic we were eager to learn more about.

1) Hi Nico, many thanks for sharing time with us. Could you first introduce yourself and present briefly Journalism++? How does it come that you are represented in five different cities in Europe?

We started Journalism++ with Pierre Romera, a developer, in 2011. At the time, we were working together at OWNI as a team of journalist & developer. When we left, we asked several newsrooms if we could join, as a team, and do data-journalism. Most were eager to hire us but not one was ready to let us work together. In order to keep working together, we created Journalism++. The name is a nerdy joke, as the “++” sign is an increment in most programming languages. In effect, it means “journalism is now equal to journalism plus one”.

As the company grew, we offered other data-journalists in Europe to use the Journalism++ brand. The Journalism++ network is organized around these chapters, in something that resembles a franchise. Companies such as Subway or NGOs like Transparency International operate in much the same way. Today, 3 companies that operate independently from us use the brand in Stockholm, Amsterdam and Cologne. All we ask from chapters is that they adhere to the Journalism++ Manifesto and be financially sustainable.

2) What does it mean to be a data-journalist? How does it differ from traditional journalism? Is the use of Open Data and its visualisation what make that difference?

At its most basic, data-journalism means using numerical data to tell stories. Let’s say you have a database to work from. You’ll need to clean it, check its authenticity, interview the data using data-mining techniques, and finally communicate your results, sometimes using data visualisations or more complex interfaces. This process can be done by one-person operations using Google Spreadsheets. But sometimes, you’ll need much expert skills, like statistics, computer forensics, designers or developers. And project managers to hold everything together. The end product changes too. Where we had articles or video reports, we can now tell stories using evolving databases. Homicide watch in Washington, DC, is a good example: it compiles all data it can find on homicides in the town. It accomplishes a basic task of journalism in a totally new format.

From a simple thing (doing journalism with data) we end up with a totally new way of doing journalism, which is very close to traditional software development. That explains why small companies like ours are better equipped than big newsrooms to do data-journalism.

3) You have participated in many events and trainings around Europe, divulging the benefits of using Open Data applied to journalism. How is Open Data seen among the journalistic community? Is there a general movement towards using Open Data in journalism or is it still a new and almost undiscovered topic?

Data-driven is still very new to most newsrooms. There is an acknowledgement of what it can do and that it can help journalists overcoming some of the challenges they face. But there’s no movement towards using open data. The number of requests for open data in most EU countries (look at the reports from CADA in France or at tools like Frag den Staat in Germany and Austria) from journalists still range in the few hundreds per year. It’s getting better, but very slowly.

4) We have seen in your portfolio that some of your clients come from the public sector. Is the public administration specially demanding Open Data-based-tools nowadays?

We’re very proud to work for the Île-de-France region, Europe’s biggest region by GDP. They set up a data-driven communication strategy alongside their open data platform, which we help them implement. Many administrations, as well as NGOs and corporations, are realizing that they sit on very valuable data troves. Most are just starting to organizing them and are thinking of making them more open. They understand that more open data will make it easier for them to communicate on their action.

5) You already developed really interesting tools and civic apps (Cartolycées, e-diplomacy, Alertepolitique, Datawrapper, …). Where do all these ideas come from? Could you explain more about the conception process and its context?

Most of our projects start at the coffee table, within the company or with clients and partners. We then take these ideas from a drawing on a napkin to full-fledged products. We sometimes have to find funding in the process. Clients are very open to experimenting with new ideas. In the case of E-diplomacy, for instance, a visualisation of diplomats’ Twitter streams for Agence France Presse, the tool really emerged from a back-and-forth ideation process between us and AFP journalists.

6) We know it might be difficult to choose one, but can you pitch one of your projects in particular? Perhaps the one you consider the most useful?

I’ll take the latest project we released, called SpendingStories. We had this idea with the Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF), which financed the project through a grant from the Knight Foundation. With its OpenSpending project, OKF collects a lot of data on budgets and spending throughout the world. But not many people know how to read, much less make sense of, this data. So we built a very simple interface that let people enter any amount, in any currency, and see how it compares to items in different budgets. We hope it’ll make it easier for journalists to put things into perspective when a politician announces a million or billion-euro plan, instead of resorting to meaningless comparisons such as “this is as much as the GDP of [insert country here]”. You can access the demo version of SpendingStories, which contains data about UK public spending, here: http://okf-spendingstories.herokuapp.com

7) You release most of your projects as Open Source. What is the motivation behind this? What are the benefits for a private company like yours in a market economy?

There are several reasons. One is practical: Open source projects are granted privileges by many companies eager to encourage openness. We don’t pay to host our code at Github and many APIs and other services are free for open source projects. It’s also a great way to showcase our work to other developers and make sure that we code in a clean manner. It’s great to ensure a high quality in our work.

So far, we haven’t coded anything that is worth protecting for its technical value. What we sell to clients is our expertise rather than our code proper. They know that we’ll develop an app or a variation of an app much faster than they would, so it makes a lot of sense for them to pay us rather than simply take the code and do it themselves.

8) Where do you find the data you are working with? Does this data already exist or does it have to be collected before? Is the data already open and available? Which are the Open Data platforms you are using the most?

There’s no fixed rule. Sometimes we’ll tell stories using open data. Sometimes we’ll do a Freedom of Information request. Sometimes we’ll scrape it. Sometimes we’ll obtain it though leaked documents. Sometimes we structure already available data. And if we still don’t find what we need, we crowdsource data collection.

As for open data platforms, the World Bank’s is certainly the most useable. It’s great to see institutions such as the IMF and Eurostat making their data available. But I’m not a fan of the newer brand of data catalogs, à la data.gov. Most of them simply aggregate data that was already published somewhere else and add little value in the process.

9) Let’s talk about what it’s still to come. In your opinion, how will data-journalism evolve in the upcoming years and what are the future steps for Journalism++?

We want to become the number one network of data-journalism companies worldwide: a dozen of financially independent companies operating in close cooperation, so as to be able to launch large-scale journalism projects at anytime and keep hacking things!