At professional conferences, journalists are often greeted with a swag bag full of branded pens, refrigerator magnets and complimentary magazines.
But at the recent Datafest in Buenos Aires, attendees received something much more valuable: a collection of important data sets on everything from inflation to public health in Argentina.
Until recently, journalists used data to describe or display information, but it wasn't easy to share or reuse data. But the emergence of "open data," along with increased transparency, better-quality journalism, social media and user content creation, are creating an explosion of interest in data journalism here.
What’s more, people in different fields—journalists, programmers and experts in statistical analysis—are increasingly interested in learning from and collaborating with one another.
These trends were abundantly clear at the inaugural Datafest. Journalists, innovators, scholars, entrepreneurs and others were united by their shared curiosity and desire to uncover information by using new tools while applying the traditional investigative journalism process: design a hypothesis and then subject it to a critical review.
More than 250 people attended the event, perhaps the first of its kind in Latin America. It was hosted by La Nación and Universidad Austral. (I work with La Nación’s Data Team as part of my Knight International Journalism Fellowship.) Datafest had support from the Knight Fellowship program, the International Center for Journalists, Knight Foundation and other sponsors that provided content and value, including Google, Junar and SPSS.
At the Datafest, attendees learned about current data projects as well as the potential to start new ones. A panel on the intensive task of data mining featured a variety of topics, such as the implementation of the public budget for the environment, a comparison of the latest national censuses, an analysis of the allotment of government advertising, presidential speeches, reports from the auditor general’s office, the judicial decisions and transportation industry subsidies.
And about that digital swag bag: We worked for months, in formal and informal meetings, to create a dataset of the 2001 and 2010 censuses.
Our hope is that Datafest attendees will now dig into the data and find patterns and uses for them that the organizers didn’t even imagine. We hope they’ll use the data to become better societal watchdogs.
Sandra Crucianelli is a Knight International Journalism Fellow, an investigative journalist and instructor, specializing in digital resources and data journalism. She is working as a consultant for La Nación, one of the most important news sites and newspapers in Argentina.
The original version of this post appeared on IJNet Spanish. It was translated into English by Maite Fernandez. Jennifer Dorroh contributed to the English version of this report.
Image courtesy of Datafest.