Updated February 20 at 12:03 p.m. Eastern.
When you head to the polls, how much do you know about a candidate before you vote for him or her?
Do you know whether the candidate completed college? Who his or her key contacts are? Whether the candidate owns real estate, a business or shares in public companies? Whether the candidate has been in any legal trouble? Who financed the campaign?
The answers to these questions, which are critical to informing voters, are too often hidden from the public.
That’s true here in Panama, where transparency for politicians and candidates is considered optional. The government does not require candidates to declare their assets, interests or electoral funding. Once elected, officials aren’t compelled by law to reveal or eliminate conflicts of interest.
To get the public this vital information, the Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas is bringing together the major media in Panama to collaborate on "Cuida Tu Voto." This initiative includes the launch of Candidatos Panamá Ruta 2014, a website developed by Poderopedia in partnership with La Prensa newspaper, which is mapping who is who in the electoral race.
The data-driven platform will offer detailed profiles on candidates for president, the national assembly and offices in major cities. The profiles will grow over time, as journalists and citizens contribute information to the project.
Journalists from several major outlets will use it to report on the elections. Citizens will use its tools to find and share information about the candidates. The platform will leverage the power of social networks, and notify community members when candidates' profiles are updated. The project will also map (using D3.js) the candidates’ business and personal relationships to powerful people. It will present timelines (made with TimelineJS) that show the major milestones in the trajectory of every major politician.
Powered by Poderopedia
The project is powered by Poderopedia), the platform that maps who's who in business and politics in Latin America. Poderopedia was a Knight News Challenge winner in 2011. I helped create the project as part of my ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellowship.
This platform is Poderopedia's most ambitious project yet. It was created in partnership with the Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas, Connectas, a nonprofit which supports transnational journalism and Panama's La Prensa newspaper with support from U.S. Embassy Panama.
The platform uses a new version of Poderopedia called Data Mapper, a customizable platform built on WordPress. We soon hope to share Data Mapper with other media organizations, so they can do their own mapping projects and monitor candidates' connections and holdings in their own countries.
Engaging the voters
Through the project, news organizations will promote citizen participation in the election process and allow the media to better interact with citizens and follow their agenda rather than the agenda of the politicians.
A local television network TVN Channel 2 will have a site called “Yo Informo” (“I inform”), which will allow citizens to report incidents during the election process, ask questions to candidates, and monitor whether campaign promises have been met by politicians while in office.
Citizens will also be able to vote for the questions to candidates they most care about (a ranking system) so the news team can find answers to the citizens' questions and verify incidents. Election observers will be using the platform to report incidents and make sure the elections are transparent.
Workshops will teach citizens and youth to use digital tools to monitor the election process and be more active participants.
New data journalism teams in Panama
What's more, the Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas will start Data Journalism Labs at major news organizations. The Labs will plant the seeds for the creation of data-driven reporting units in Panama and train journalists in data-driven elections reporting. Former ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow Sandra Crucianelli, who helped build the data journalism unit at Argentina’s La Nacion, will oversee the Labs.
Follow the action
We’re launching the project today in Panama’s capital. About 70 people, including youth, representatives of civil society organizations, journalists, academics, and politicians are gathering for a day-long event to learn about the power of citizen journalism and technology to be better informed and be active participants in the election process. Even more attendees are joining us for the opening ceremony, including candidates for the May 4 general elections.
ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow Miguel Paz is a Chilean journalist and founder and CEO of Poderopedia, a data journalism website that highlights links among Chile’s business and political elites.
Global media innovation content related to the projects and partners of the ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellows on IJNet is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and edited by Jennifer Dorroh.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Kodak Agfa.