SOCIETY | Sep 7, 2017

Is Data Journalism for everyone? Interview with Crina Boros

Crina Boros, data journalist with the independent group, Investigate Europe, explains the role of data in journalism

Nine European journalists joined to form a network – Investigate Europe – with the aim of conducting investigations and research that, specifically because it relates to a theme that is discussed in various countries, can highlight a common problem or suggest a unified resolution. The result is a set of independent services that are not confined by national borders, concealing a team effort that cannot be achieved without a common research method, periodical meetings, sharing all the information discovered and using tools that facilitate all this despite the distance between them since the writers lives in France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Poland, Portugal and Great Britain. In investigations of this type, however, the data is the boss; because the data is the object of the search upon which an unknown truth can be reconstructed.

Data analysis – confirms Crina Boros, data journalist of the group – has been a routine exercise in our work for many years now. The need to work with data arises from the fact that it is an ideal way to understand if a problem is recurring and to what extent, but also to protect a vulnerable source. One of our “data-driven” surveys, for example, relates to the use of European Commission research subsidies for defense and security projects. In that case, we combed through the existing databases, cross-checking them with tables that we created from the information collected from sites or documents and that appeared to be only textual. In order to strengthen our findings, we then used interviews and Freedom of Information logs. All the collected and reworked material led us to conclude what we then wrote in the investigation report. .

What kind of data is harder to find and why?

Difficulty in retrieving data varies from country to country, but in general, complete data is not easy to find as it is unavailable. Leaving aside personal information, which must be protected in most cases, public institutions try to prevent citizen control by publishing partial information. The reason being? Transparency has a price and I have yet to see a government that chooses it if there is no one who strives to achieve it. As a journalist I believe that, precisely in light of our role as monitors of that which surrounds us, we cannot turn a blind eye and give up the battle to understand how those who have the power to influence our lives, are operating. And in this fight, data is our strategic ally.

Not only must the public administrations’ data be monitored, but also that of corporate or non-profit bodies when they intersect with public spending, the collective interest, or topics of common interest. I also believe that the Church should be a focus of our attention in terms of its activities, but to do all this, there has to be a strong political will.

Is Open Data important for citizens and journalists?

How could it not be? As far as we know, what is available to us is only the tip of the iceberg; until we begin to ask the right questions, focus more on what the data represents rather than how it is collected; if we are not willing to look for defects therein and compare it with other large amounts of data, we will never be able to represent the truth. Should we decide to do all this, how could Open Data not be useful

What kind of data is most useful to have available to us in Open Data?

Everything that we still do not have.

Why are there still so few Data Journalists?

I’m not sure if there are only a few of us data crunching should be in every journalist’s toolbox rather than just being something for the few. In editorials the use of new tools should have been the natural evolution of investigative journalism. Yet still however few have even realized that data analysis is a new way to reconstruct stories and read reality. When data crunching is considered as an integral part of all journalists’ work of documenting the truth, then they will all have become Data Journalists .