Investigative Journalists, Data Sleuths and Web Designers Explore Free Graphic Tools in Argentina

Aug 102012

Fifty journalists, computer programmers and web designers came together for a workshop on Google Fusion Tables on Friday, July 20, at Google Argentina’s headquarters in Buenos Aires.

The gathering of professionals from different disciplines was not accidental. Bringing these two groups together is the key to maximizing the use of digital tools and applications to uncover important stories in the public interest.

The search for synergy among people who have an issue they want to investigate, people who know how to root out information from deep in the Web, and people who know how to turn that data into compelling journalism and present it in an attractive way to audiences, is a challenge faced by media organizations that care about investigative reporting.

This interaction is made complete with the participation of ordinary citizens, the essential fourth leg of the virtual table that is revolutionizing the way journalism is practiced in the digital realm.

Google Fusion Tables is a free software tool that is based on cloud computing and allows the transmission and display of data on maps, graphs and timelines. It offers tremendous advantages in terms of access to information and transparency.

The collaboration among developers, journalists and graphic designers promotes high-quality journalism and basic transparency. It provides the user with both raw and processed data, so that news audiences can trace the same paths to the same results. It is nothing less than transparent journalism at its best.

Florence Bianco, manager of communications and public affairs for Google Argentina, said the decision to offer this workshop shows how data journalism is catching on in Argentina.

The idea for the workshop grew out of Hacks/Hackers meetups in Buenos Aires, which mix teams of developers and journalists. Hacks/Hackers is a partner of ICFJ’s Knight International Journalism Fellowships program, which is developing a data journalism program in Argentina at the newspaper La Nacion and FOPEA, the national journalists association.

The workshop’s aim was to show how journalists can use free tools available on the Internet to tell effective and attractive stories. The trainer was Nicholas Bortolotti, developer relations director for Google South Region.

The event also allowed participants to find, prepare and display data from public sources using free tools such as Google Refine, Google Fusion Tables, Google Spreadsheets and Google Maps API.

About Merging…

These tools are broadening the boundaries of journalism, allowing journalists to think about stories they never before imagined.

Suddenly, journalists are applying their knowledge of programming to their work. Conversely, professionals from other disciplines are beginning to think like journalists. I have seen this with my own eyes in recent months.

It is as if skills that for decades were confined to niches and had no contact are today being fused together. Charts and maps used to be separate tools for visualization. Suddenly, thanks to technology, they have combined to give birth to a new product.

Something similar is happening to data teams: There are no watertight compartments, where designers work alone and the journalist or editor acts as the conductor.

We are all beginning to develop unexpected skills, and far from becoming a threat, it is a cause for celebration. The blurring of the lines between programmers and journalists was clear during the workshop on Google Fusion Tables. At least for me, as an observer, it was simply wonderful.