School of Data: ‘Creating an data expedition clarifies which tools can be used to tell a story’

October 12, 2014

Although data journalism is gaining more popularity among researchers and reporters, many find it still difficult to work with the open source data tools. The complaints vary from not knowing how to collect the data to which tool can be used for a certain story. The Brazilian journalists Marco Pires and Natalia Mazotte presented two workshops at the ODC where participants had the chance to inform which tools are available in the School of Data network and how to work with one of the most common instruments, namely Gephi.

What’s the advantage of using open data tools like Gephi?

Natalia: “Network is a very important concept today. To understand our social contacts and social relations it’s important to realize that our interactions can modify our behaviors. This has of course also influence in our political, economical and social reality. Gephi is a visual way of showing the layers of these relationships you have in 3D animation with for instance people on Facebook who work at big companies, ngo’s or governments. Publishing animated graphics that can separate for instance the background and location of your followers on Facebook in multiple catogories, might explain where the nearest donors for your upcoming projects can be found.”

Can you apply Gephi only on Facebook or does it work as well on other social media platforms?

Natalia: “Yes, it works also on other social networks. Once the spreadsheet of data is connected with a social network, visualization of your connections or tweets can be made visible. It also works for published papers, which can be very helpful if you want to know for instance who’s doing research about the Amazone rain forest.”

You also gave a presentation about the School of Data? What’s the purpose of that?

Marco: “The School of Data gives you the opportunity to learn different tools for analyzing, collecting and scraping data in general terms. What we did in our session was to create a data expedition where the group had to construct a question and search for the answers with some open data tools. The question we raised for this event was focused on ebola. How far has the virus spread and why haven’t international health organizations acted sooner to contain it? During the discussion the group decided to split up in two to answer both questions. The tools that they thought would help resolve the matter, were chosen during this process. In this case we used spreadsheets from Google Charts and visualization tools like Carto DB. It’s an interesting and very accessible way of collecting data and presenting it to the public. And you don’t have to be an ICT-nerd to get the hang of it. Anyone who knows how to surf the internet, can use it.”

Do Brazilian media outlets also use these open data tools to make complicated stories more attractive?

Marco: “Yes, there’s trend in which Brazil is slowly adapting skills and resources from other areas into the production of a story. Using data effectively and justifying your findings makes the job easier for many journalists. Unfortunately we are still a little bit behind when it comes to the latest developments of data journalism practiced in the USA and Europe. But we are getting there.”
Natalia: “That’s why we started a new initiative for data journalists in Brazil, called Journalism J++. They are already operative in various European and American cities. This November we will open our first office in Sao Paolo.”

What did you think of the other sessions at ODC14?

Natalia: “I found it very interesting, especially the one about Open Corporations. Their open source tool Octopus, which exposes the shareholders of every multinational, is something we can use in our fight to make corporations more transparent.”
Marco: “It’s my first time at ODC14 and I was very impressed with the work that ngo’s are doing in developing countries, especially the ones in Africa. With so many projects it’s sometimes hard to understand that such a high level subject as open data is being taken care off in places where people are still in need for basic utilities.”

More information:
School of Data
Journalism J++