How can newsrooms better hold governments accountable for their actions and promises?
On 7–8 October 2016, the Global Editors Network (GEN), Público and APImprensa, with the support of the Google News Lab, gathered the best Portuguese media innovators at Pixels Camp in Lisbon to develop innovative journalism prototypes. Here’s our behind-the-scenes look at this Editors Lab in Portugal.
Prototyping the future of news
With participants from Portugal, Brazil, São Tomé and Príncipe and Cabo Verde, the Público Editors Lab gathered a diverse and dedicated crowd of journalists, developers and designers.
Over two days, their goal was to build a prototype aimed to better hold governments accountable for their actions and promises. The prototypes could be newsroom-internal tools to help journalists gather data or audience-facing services.
As food for thought, two main speakers introduced the hackathon in hopes to inspire, guide or just provide some useful tips for prototyping.
Google News Lab first showcased a few of its tools and how they can be used by journalists. Google’s representative, Millán I. Berzosa, presented different ways Google Trends can be used as a source for enriching stories, and how sometimes stories can be found within the search data. Berzosa also presented the Google Shield initiative, a tool built to provide newsrooms with protection from DDoS attacks. (A distributed denial-of-service—DDoS—attack is an attempt to make an online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources.)
Data, investigation, fact checking
There are different ways for journalists to dig information and find stories on politicians. To talk about the journalism efforts needed to produce such stories, this Editors Lab was fortunate to have Adrián Blanco as a speaker. Blanco is a data journalist, currently working at El Confidential. During his presentation, he shared a lot of great examples of stories, data visualisations, and investigations, aimed at holding government powers more accountable for their actions and promises.
“Stories need to create a discussion, and show the facts in a simple way” — Adrián Blanco
Blanco showed the example of the story putting in perspective the amounts promised by members of the Spanish government.
Blanco went on, “Another great example is Panama Papers. It showed that data leaks are an important phenomenon, enabling journalists to hold governments accountable.” [El Confidential was one of the media organisations working on this project.]
Another example was the story on how the Spanish government spent 26 million euros on flights to deport migrants since 2011. The Spanish government never provided accurate budget data for the flights used to deport migrants. Through their investigation, the newspaper reached the conclusion that the government had spent more than 26 millions euros in flights and logistics, even though their data was incomplete.
Having the right data sources, and the right angle for a story sometimes is not enough to have a significant impact. The efficiency in which journalists can tell a story often relies on good data visualisation and a good web layout. The most striking similarity between El Confidential stories shared by Blanco was the high quality and sometimes interactive “dataviz” featured on those articles. Blanco concluded, “It is becoming vital to teach journalists how to use and display data to the readers.”
At the end of the first day and after mentorship from Adrián Blanco and GEN’s Évangéline de Bourgoing, teams from Público, Visão, Expresso, ClusterMediaLabs, São Toméan Téla Nón, and Brazilian Correio do Povo, all had their mind set on what their were going to build on the next day.
And the winner is…
At the end of Friday’s working sprint, the teams gathered and pitched their work to the jury (see below) and the other participants. The team from Expresso came out on top (Raquel Albuquerque, journalist, Inês Bravo, UX designer; and Tiago Simāo, head of development) with their prototype called Tenho Dito. Raquel Albuquerque explains the project:
“This is a real-time statement checking tool for journalists. The general idea is to know when politicians contradict themselves; if at one time they advocate a policy, it is important to know if a few years back, they were criticising that same policy.”
The jury members (Adrián Blanco, Carlos Rosa, José Moreno, Maria João Vasconcelos and Évangéline de Bourgoing) unanimously agreed on the exceptional quality of the winning prototype. We asked the speaker and jury member Adrián Blanco about his impressions:
“Expresso’s prototype can really provide a new tool to shorten the process of fact checking, to improve the news with a quick view on how politicians opinions are changing. Journalists can dedicate more time to the news itself, and they had an interesting interface showing how opinions changed over time too.”
When asked how the prototype worked during their pitch, the team showed this slide below, while Albuquerque explained:
“For Tenho Dito to work, we need to gather data from the parliamentary debate archives and from existing news, put everything together, and extract the statements of the politicians.”
She goes on:
“The goal of our tool is to contextualise and also to add an extra layer of information, by displaying the ‘history’ on position. With this, it is easy and fast to get proof that a party changed position over the years.”
Another notable project came from Público’s team: Verifacto, a browser extension prototype acting as an in-line fact-checking aggregation tool. The project earned Público a special mention by the jury.
The next Editors Lab will take place in Munich, 25–27 October and will focus on developing new investigative journalism prototypes. Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Global Editors Network, co-organiser of this Editors Lab, will be holding an exclusive virtual discussion with Edward Snowden focused on investigative journalism. The interview will be led by Dan Gillmor.