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How a newspaper in Brazil is using data to inform voters

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Brazil’s largest newspaper has created an interactive website that tracks the major issues in Sao Paulo’s mayoral race, including housing, public health, safety and the environment.

The site FolhaSPDados (or "Folha Sao Paulo Data") combines news stories with data sets, maps and other infographics to help Sao Paulo residents monitor developments in the upcoming mayoral election in October.

As a Knight International Journalism Fellow, I helped lead the initiative, in a partnership with Folha de Sao Paulo. The launch comes at a time when newspapers and websites around the world are investing in data-based journalism as a way to innovate and improve access to information.

The idea behind FolhaSPDados is to give readers data-based news crucial to understanding the challenges facing South America's largest metropolis. The site’s editors will find and post datasets that complement daily stories published by the newspaper. Readers can access and download the raw data. They also can post comments and suggest other data to publish.

Together, the public and the newspaper can check out the facts, figures and political promises circulating in the candidates’ speeches. We hope to set up collaborative tasks, like asking readers to send in photos or to map specific issues. Campaign issues expected to emerge in the coming weeks include traffic, public health and the environment.

"The extensive use of data characterizes some of the best current journalism projects globally," says Folha's executive editor, Sérgio Dávila. “This site adds to Folha's other initiatives in this direction."

Brazil has been recognized as a leader in disclosing data about government spending. Also, a recent Freedom of Information law has extended the potential to shed light on essential information related to combating corruption, access to public services and social inequality.

In its launch, the site highlights popular topics of discussion during city elections. For example, the paper ran a story on the dearth of municipal day care centers in Sao Paulo, with mayoral candidates all proposing ways to create more. FolhaSPDados supplemented this with a graphic showing which parts of the city have the greatest demand for day care, based on the number of children on waiting lists.

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A map of Sao Paulo's green spaces. Via FolhaSPDados.

In another story, data provided by the local administration of Sao Paulo shows the [unequal distribution of green spaces – parks, squares and tree-lined streets – among neighborhoods. This data can be browsed in an interactive map that allows the reader to filter the information by the names of the districts.

Also, readers will find a detailed story on the real estate values and infrastructure of the Paraisópolis slum. Data about income, number of households and access to water and sanitation are displayed on an infograph. The piece was inspired by the work of citizen journalist Vagner de Alencar, who writes for Folha de Sao Paulo’s Mural blog, also born from a partnership of Folha and the Knight International Journalism Fellowships in 2010.

So far the site is staffed by a team of two people, myself and Leandro Machado, also a contributor to Mural. Machado and I, plus one other person from the paper’s design desk, created this first round of maps and graphs.

This article first appeared on ICFJ.

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