AMA with Eva Constantaras

Conversations with Data: #29

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Despite what our name might lead you to believe, the European Journalism Centre is a supporter of data journalism all over the world -- not just in Europe!

Whether it's how data informs fact-checking in Indonesia, or cross-border investigations in West Africa, we want to be sure that our conversations continue to include voices from every corner of the globe.

So, don't be shy! If you're analysing data in Algeria, visualising it in Venezuela, or parsing it in the Philippines, please post here to share your work and advice on future topics.

In the meantime, we've brought in Eva Constantaras, who'll be helping us expand our data journalism horizons in this edition's AMA. Eva is an investigative trainer, with teams in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Kenya, and author of Data Journalism By, About and For Marginalised Communities in the Data Journalism Handbook 2.


A training session, run by Eva, in Pakistan.

What you asked

What are some of your favourite examples of data journalism, across various continents, and why?

"My favourite projects are those that try to tackle some of the world's biggest challenges: inequality, injustice, and discrimination, through evergreen projects that serve as a cornerstone for beat reporting on the issue, whether it's for journalists within that newsroom or for others.

I'll give you some examples of projects on state and organised crime violence from large and small newsrooms all around the world, where data is used to document and expose violence despite the lack of guaranteed press freedom.

A dónde van los desaparecidos (Where to the Missing Go?) documents the clandestine graves in Mexico and provides the only standardised nationwide dataset about mass graves, which is essential for accountability reporting in the country going forward.


From the project, a time-series map of the almost 2000 clandestine graves discovered in Mexico between 2006 and 1016. Try it live here.

In Asia, there are a couple of projects: Malaysiakini's Death in Custody and Rapplr's continued coverage of Duerte's drug war, despite the president's legal assault on the outlet, are extraordinary because of the scale of documentation that they have achieved during an ongoing crisis, within repressive media environments and despite limited access to police data.

Similarly, Al Jazeera's Yemen: Death from Above and Kenya's Nation Newsplex's Deadly Force Database open opportunities for accountability reporting that -- had they not been based on data -- would have probably been subject to outright censorship or self-censorship, never making it into the news cycle at all. These databases have allowed local media, and not just the journalists who produced them, to report more critically, consistently, and safely on the government and scrutinise their leaders in a way they had been hesitant to do before."


The Deadly Force Database lets audiences explore data to understand more about each person killed by the Kenyan police and the circumstances surrounding their deaths.

In some parts of the world, mis- and dis-information can present real security risks. What are some examples of best practice data reporting in these scenarios?

"One factor that makes people more easily fall prey to mis- and dis- information is a failure of journalists to inform citizens in the first place. Often, misinformation spreads faster because of a lack of credible public interest reporting that grounds citizens' understanding of an issue in evidence. Do citizens know how the economy works, or the education system? How about healthcare? It is not enough just to stop misinformation and fake news; there has to be a credible, data driven news alternative to fill the void.

A lot of data journalists are working to establish a common understanding of the true underlying structural challenges facing society. Issues such as inequality, climate change, labour rights, and gender discrimination are often best understood and solved through the lens of data. And the more journalists working on these issues, the more likely they are to recognise bad data, spot gaps in people's perception and reality, and steer the conversation back to reality."

How do different cultures influence the practice of data journalism?

"A huge difference I see in data journalism teams in the Global South is a willingness to be much more explicit in producing data driven beat reporting. Instead of producing expensive, high profile 'one-hit-wonder' interactives, they relentlessly cover the roots of inequality.

If you look at the landing pages of data driven media outlets such as IndiaSpend in India, The Nation Newsplex in Kenya, La Nacion Data in Argentina, or InfoTimes in Egypt, most of their data stories are about measuring policy progress, not politics, and how bad policies affect people's lives. Out of necessity, they tend to be more resourceful with the technology they use to get the story done, whether that means doing the analysis in Excel, working with a data scientist to scrape Right to Left text and non-unicode data, or partnering closely with civic tech to dive into a new government monitoring database."


Front page stories at the InfoTimes.

So, what can western data journalists learn from these reporters?

“Western data journalists could embrace the idea that a lot of the challenges facing the West are just about the same as the ones facing the rest of the world. Everyone needs to do a better job of covering these issues in a global context, preferably through data driven reporting collaborations with data reporters around the world. Covering climate change, reproductive rights, or immigration by highlighting transnational efforts to roll back rights and regulations would serve audiences much more than the persistent “us” and “them” narrative that has enabled populist politics to thrive. For global coverage of these issues, check out (and add to) Outriders Network database of global interactive and data stories.”

And vice versa?

“Journalists from the rest of the world should keep a close eye on the collaborative data journalism model being pioneered in the US and Europe to get relevant data driven content out to the entire country. Local reporting projects led by the ProPublica Associated Press Shared Data Program, OCCRP, the BBC Shared Data Unit, and Bureau Local make sense in a lot of countries. They maximise resources through a centralised data team that can experiment with new technologies and make locally relevant datasets available to other journalists, working in news deserts where little quality news is available.”

Our next conversation

Like in many of Eva’s favourite projects, we’re always awed by journalists who are able to get difficult data on under-reported news. Because there are so many important and unreported stories out there, our next edition will be highlighting ways that data journalists can help bring them to light.

To get you started, we can think of a few areas where data and reporting are hard to come by: domestic violence, female sanitation issues, and elder abuse. Share your tips for data reporting on any of these issues, or tell us about another topic that needs focussing on here.

As always, don’t forget to let us know what you’d like us to feature in our future editions.

Until next time,

Madolyn from the EJC Data team

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