Data Journalism Exposes Corruption in Guatemala

March 29, 2017

Each morning in Guatemala City, journalists wake early to conduct research, analyze public records, and speak to sources from the government and civil society. Information inundates their phone lines, social media feeds and email chains. Buried somewhere in the middle of it all is the latest scoop that will break open their next big story. For journalists working to expose corruption, it is essential that they know how to analyze this raw data in order to understand its implications and how it affects civil society. They need data journalism.

In January of this year, IREX, in partnership with Counterpart International’s Participación Cívica program, began a 3-month data journalism training course – Data Journalism Practicum – for investigative reporters working in Guatemalan print, digital and broadcast media. The trainings were hosted by world-renowned journalist and Director of the Master of Science Data Concentration Program at the Journalism School of Columbia University, Giannina Seginini.

Becoming a Data Journalist

For the first two months, Ms. Seginini guided students through the data journalism process, beginning with identifying the types of data needed and how to track it down.

For example, while it is impossible to interview 28 million people for a story, with the right tools, a data journalist can analyze 28 million procurement contracts or tax-payer funded program records in 1 second. “Once the student had a data set, we walked through how to clean it, transform it, and process it until they got to the visualization and visual analytics. Then we worked through how to flush out stories and angles from the visuals,” Ms. Seginini described.

Having completed the data graphing and mapping work (known in the industry as “visualization”) with Ms. Seginini, participants began writing, recording and editing their stories for Guatemalan media. Some of the stories guided by the Data Journalism Practicum have been published, and others are still in development. However, there is no doubt that these newfound skills will build the capacity of Guatemalan journalists to more effectively report on corruption and current events, and to demonstrate clearly how these political issues impact civil society and citizens throughout Guatemala.

Data Exposes Corruption in Guatemala

“Data journalism is a stronger form of investigation. It strengthens our cases, which means that civil society will trust the media more,” Maria Lourdes Hercules Magaña, a Practicum participant from Guatevision, reflected. “And that is what we need right now. If we want to expose corruption to Guatemalan civil society, we must be open and honest with the public. Data journalism helps to make sure we are,” she noted, proudly.

In fact, Maria used data journalism in one of her most recent articles to highlight long standing corruption at the national hospital in Santa Rosa.  Using data journalism, she exposed that the administrative staff were not properly maintaining hospital or patient records. And in the records that Maria could see, she discovered a pattern: hospital staff and area officials had warehouses full of expired medicine and supplies that they reported as non-existent. She was also able to show that the hospital had products with no invoices and debts to suppliers that never delivered anything. By making the public aware of this corruption, civil society can now use this knowledge to advocate for change at the hospital.

According to Tara Susman-Peña, Senior Technical Advisor at IREX, articles like this speak to the mission of Participación Cívica and the importance of the Data Journalism Practicum:

“Transparency and accountability are important elements of civil society and civic participation. Through this training, investigative journalists learned how to produce stories that will help media and civil society partners challenge corrupt institutions and hold leaders and politicians accountable. IREX is proud to support the development of investigative reporters in Guatemala to pursue these worthy causes.”

For more than fifty years, Counterpart International has used customized approaches to empower local communities with the skills needed to become solution creators. Data journalism increases the credibility of investigative journalists, and these skills are already empowering Guatemalan media institutions to be reliable and accountable institutions of public trust. Counterpart is proud to stand with IREX to strengthen the skills of the Guatemalan journalists so essential to promoting transparency and accountability to civil society.

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