Is data journalism possible in Spain?

Data journalism has taken a giant step in recent years, benefiting from the legal and technological measures of data openness and transparency. What is the current panorama of this journalistic branch and what do the different entities do to facilitate it?

The journalistic specialty based on the collection and analysis of large amounts of data has its germ in the 60s, then using the limited technological resources they had.

It was at that time when communication professionals began to be aware of everything that could offer them to truthfully inform society and perform the work of social counter-power and auditors of the political powers that characterize the journalistic profession.

As it is easily deductible, data journalism has been exponentially enhanced with the popularization of the internet, the emergence of open data and new data processing technologies, such as Big Data.

At this point, we should ask ourselves in what situation is data journalism in Spain and if this current situation allows its development with absolute normality. We look for the answer to this question below.

Data journalism and transparency

One of the main issues that we must resolve is whether there are sufficient levels of transparency by Spanish public entities to be able to develop data journalism normally.

To draw valuable conclusions, the work done by Leonardo La-Rosa and Teresa Sandoval-Martín, from the Carlos III University, entitled The insufficiency of the Transparency Law for the exercise of data journalism in Spain, which tries to analyze the consequences of Law 19/2013 and the Spanish government’s transparency portal to data journalism, as well as the reaction of journalists to these initiatives. To this end, interviews were conducted with journalists from different media and a thorough investigation of the newspaper archive.

As a summary of the interviews, we can conclude that, as the title of the research indicates, the Transparency Law and the government’s transparency portal should help much more than it currently does in the exercise of data journalism and instead, in some cases, it even makes it difficult.

The interviewees point out that the deadlines defined by the law are not met, the requested information arriving too late, if it is not denied with relative ease. Their responses also reflect the fact that the data offered in the respective transparency portals lack practical utility for the development of their work.

Regarding the study of journalistic publications, 93 articles were analyzed, what most attracts attention is that only 9 news did not have any interested opinion as a source, such as political parties and institutions directly involved.

Data journalism

How Spanish journalists access public data?

One of the factors that are worth studying further is the modus operandi of journalists when accessing these public management data. For this, we will use the comparative study on access to public data by Spanish and Swedish journalists, entitled The Promise of the Transparency Culture.

To carry out this study, semi-structured interviews were used with ten journalists working in five Spanish and five Swedish news organizations. In addition, the results were supported by a survey of 96 Spanish and 84 Swedish data journalists that contained 17 questions on data and public data journalism.

The results reveal that 50% of Spanish journalists have requested information from public authorities several times, and almost a fifth of Spanish data journalists have never requested public information.

In reference to the main challenges of Spanish data journalists, the study highlights access to the data itself, statistical skills and public transparency. In addition, it highlights that the simplification of the process of access to public data does not meet expectations.

As in the study mentioned in the previous section, these interviewees also show their complaint about the slow delivery and the denials of certain information. They also put on the table a conflict between the Transparency Law and other laws that may have priority over the former.

Initiatives

Just take a look at the mainstream media to be aware that data journalism is reaching certain levels of prominence. Articles of various kinds, often accompanied by a significant amount of graphics and infographics attest to this trend.

That is why it is intended to make visible and encourage this discipline, as well as the professionals who exercise it. To this end, the professors of the Master in Innovation in Journalism of the Miguel Hernández University (UMH for its acronym in Spanish) of Elche have shaped the first list of professionals related to data journalism in Spain and Latin America, which has more than 300 members. This tool also aims to increase the interaction between these types of information professionals, so that synergies of high value for the sector originate.

As an example of the application of data journalism, we can highlight the Empty Spain Workshop, in which the Medialab-Prado data journalism group compiled the results of the work carried out on Empty Spain, a project that demonstrates the demographic evolution of the country from open data. From this data, various multidisciplinary groups developed information, applications and projects.

Some open data portals even reflect in some of its sections how the information they offer in the journalistic field affects, such as that of the city of Madrid, which shows a compilation of the published news that has been based on the different datasets offered by said portal.

In short, in response to the question that gives title to this article, we can say that data journalism of course is possible in Spain, as evidenced by the greater presence of works related to the study of data and the various related initiatives.

The blame for this growth in data journalism is open data portals. Providing added value to those who facilitate the analysis of published data presented clearly through tables, graphs and/or maps, which facilitates and streamlines the work of the communication professional and subsequent understanding by the citizens. An example of this can be found in OGoov, the Platform that allows the display of Open Data Portals developed by Viafirma.

However, there is ample room for improvement, especially by public institutions and certain reluctance to provide the requested information, as well as the slow bureaucratic procedures to obtain such information and the lack of truly interesting content in Open data catalogs. Defects must begin to settle as soon as possible.

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