Handbook helps Latin American journalists understand and work with data

byJessica Weiss
Oct 03 in Miscellaneous
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In Latin America, producing data journalism is often difficult because of a simple fact: Data is not that easy to get here.

That’s due to a range of issues, including a general lack of access to public data, fuzzy press freedom and open data policies, low levels of transparency, and security risks for journalists and hackers.

Now, a new handbook aims to help the region’s journalists understand and work with data in this sometimes-tricky context. The Manual de Periodismo de Datos Iberoamericano (Latin American Handbook of Data Journalism) launched at the recent Hacks/Hackers Media Party in Buenos Aires. It includes contributions from more than 40 journalists, designers and programmers from across the region.

The book explores the state of data journalism in the countries of Latin America and shares useful advice for reporters and news organizations. It aims to promote the development of data journalism in the region and “reducing the digital divide," according to the book's introduction. 

The collaborative production of the handbook was led by Miguel Paz, the Chilean journalist who is founder and CEO of the data-driven Poderopedia platform, during his recent ICFJ Knight Fellowship.

The handbook was initially intended as a simple parallel to the Data Journalism Handbook, a global, collaborative initiative supported by the European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation. But Paz and other collaborators soon realized the region needed its own handbook.

“In countries where the principles of transparency are more established, journalists get updated data in appropriate formats as part of a daily practice,” the manual’s introduction states. “We do not.”

So Paz put out a call (here on IJNet and elsewhere) for contributors to a region-specific handbook and began to create a road map for it. Each step of the process would be transparent, and the team vowed to use open source and free tools whenever possible.

The Latin American Handbook of Data Journalism, which is being distributed free of charge under a Creative Commons license, was published by the Poderomedia Foundation in partnership with the School of Journalism at the University Alberto Hurtado, with support from Hivos and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

It includes tips, guides and tutorials on how to obtain and process data, make visualizations and work effectively as a journalist in the current technological environment. It covers topics including databases, deep web searches, data mining and scraping, data visualization and mapping, open data, access to public information and cybersecurity.

It also explains how some of the most well-known data journalism projects in the region have been generated and developed, and tips a hat to the work that has gone into these efforts: sifting through “thousands of documents, often scattered, that were not conceived to provide useful data for the population."

The handbook also features creative perspectives on the task of working with data, such as an “interview with a database,” by Hassell Fallas, the data investigative editor at La Nación newspaper in Costa Rica.

“A database is like any other source,” Fallas writes. “It is prone to tell lies, hide information, give us a partial picture of a phenomenon and lead to mistakes.”

Paper copies of the Handbook will be available this month and can be requested by email here.

Poderomedia held an event in Chile to discuss data journalism and the handbook. They'll hold another gathering October 17 in Lima, Peru.

Jessica Weiss is a Bogotá-based freelancer.

Image: Screen grab from the manual's website. 

Global media innovation content related to the projects and partners of the Knight Fellowships on IJNet is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and edited by Jennifer Dorroh.