Argentinian news outlet La Nacion has been recognised for its data journalism by a number of organisations in recent years, producing stories that hold the government to account in a country where open access to information is limited.
Speaking at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia on Sunday, Angelica Peralta Ramos, La Nacion Data project leader, told delegates of the organisation's "initiative to develop data journalism and contribute to opening data".
There is no shortage of stories in a country ranked 106 out of 177 on the global Corruption Perceptions Index, she said, but with no freedom of information laws accessing the data can be difficult.
However, "data is the new raw material for journalism", she said, and "if we use data as journalists then more information will be demanded" of governments or organisations that are less open.
The first step is in overcoming assumptions, or "excuses", about the difficulties of producing data journalism stories when the political environment is less than accommodating.
A list of "excuses" that can sometimes hold journalists back from getting started in data journalism, according to Angelica Peralta Ramos
Too often news organisations can assume there is no credible data available, that an absence of transparency laws make the process impossible, or that a lack of developers or necessary skills in the newsroom mean the project is a non-starter, Peralta said.
Having faced similar situations at La Nacion in the past, she shared her advice on how to overcome such obstacles.
1. Never stop learning
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) have opened up much of the information needed to get started in data journalism for anyone with an internet connection, she said, while a quick search should turn up a range of webinars, blogs and books to aid in the process.
A few organisations she recommended as a good starting point included the Online News Association, European Journalism Centre, Knight Center, and School of Data, all of which can help people get started with courses, resources or further advice.
2. Embrace 'hacktivism'
"In many countries and cities there are communities of developers committed to applying their technology to data and to change," Peralta said.
The Open Knowledge Foundation has a global community for unearthing information and empowering local groups, while Hacks/Hackers has more than 60 chapters around the world where journalists and developers can meet and discuss ideas.
The Open News project from Knight-Mozilla, which acts as both a community and resource for free tools, also came highly recommended, as did Garage Lab, a Buenos Aires-based community of technologists.
There is also an English-language Garage Lab which acts as a social network for developers of both software and hardware.
3. Start creating datasets, start small
Because of the nature of the information laws in Argentina, Peralta and her colleagues regularly had to scrape government or business websites for data before it was taken down.
This sometimes resulted in smaller collections of data but she recommended starting small in order to not be overwhelmed and building the skills and confidence to take on bigger databases.
4. The team is the engine
"Look for people who love to learn, these are the people that are evolving" in the industry, she said, on both the journalistic and more technical sides.
While journalists and developers "are the perfect team" for this work, said Peralta, it is important to "build the bridge" between the two professions by making an effort to understand the different vocabularies that are relevant to each and trusting in team members' capabilities.
Data miners, essentially a researcher devoted to digging for data, and a designer for visualising the finished product are also useful additions to a small data team, she said, before distributing the work through social media to get feedback and starting a conversation with readers.
5. Tools and technology
Useful tools for data journalists from Angelica Peralta Ramos
"You don't need to be a developer to use tools," said Peralta, showcasing a range that she has found useful, and while a journalist can learn to analyse the data and use simple tools, a developer can do any of the more complex work, she said.
If necessary, much of the work can be done by a well-trained journalist committed to learning the tools necessary for each job.
Earlier in the festival, Steve Doig, professor of journalism at the University of Arizona, also shared his advice and tips for journalists who wish to start working with data.
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify between the different online communities named Garage Lab.
Free daily newsletter
- Five tips for making your internship application stand out
- Tip: Make covid-19 data more accessible to readers
- Need data for your next story? This tool can get you the stats before the official figures are out
- Six journalism podcasts to listen to while in lockdown
- IDA, Microsoft’s new AI-powered tool, helps journalists collaborate on large datasets