Shrinking Digital and Data Divide

Rather than focusing on specific stories, I would rather highlight a few categories of stories that have proven the importance of data journalism to democracy in times of growing inequality, whether they are done by large teams working with massive datasets or smaller teams making do with limited resources.

Curated by

Eva Constantaras
Eva Constantaras is a data journalist specialized in building data journalism teams in developing countries. These teams that have reported from across Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia and East Africa…
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Leprosy of the land
Texty
A team of Ukrainian journalists takes a very high tech approach to a very low tech challenge: lack of disclosure of mining contract and license documents in Ukraine. This could be a game changer in many countries with unregulated and opaque natural resource extraction. It enables journalists to train algorithms to recognize patterns of deforestation associated with mining and develop their own database of mining locations to investigate in the absence of official documents.
The big pharma project
Ojo Público
A cross-border investigation from Latin America brings together data and documents from different countries to fill a similar void of publicly disclosed information about the operations of pharmaceutical companies. The problem of pharmaceutical monopolies that rig prices to earn the most money for themselves while blocking access to poor communities is not unique to the developing world, but this team had to go the extra mile to track price manipulation despite minimal or no disclosure requirements in the partner countries.
Why Police Dismiss 1 in 5 Sexual Assault Claims as Baseless
The Globe and Mail
This data journalism take on #metoo highlights the dearth of data we have on issues directly impacting women. It also puts women, not data, right at the center of the narrative, to remind everyone that data is about real people and real problems. It also highlights the widespread practice of authorities purposefully undercounting problems affecting vulnerable communities in order to minimize them and continue to ignore them.
Delhi’s Dowry Bazaar
Hindustan Times
This is a great example of how to tell an important story about gender inequality despite the widespread lack of available data. This project 1,330 dowry harassment cases registered in the first 6 months of 2017. Obviously, this problem is much bigger, but the available data gives us a peek into the consequences of treating women like items to be bought and sold. I also really appreciate the narrative format, which forces the reader to pause and consider each fact and visualization separately, to stop and think about the absurdity of trading women for cars and jewelry and televisions.
The counted
The Guardian
I bring up The Counted because it inspired a global movement to document police violence and make victims visible. As the Guardian explains, “Because there isn’t an official tally of police-involved killings, The Guardian used data from multiple sources, including crowdsourced tips and local media reports. The reporting team has been working to pull names, images, and personal details where possible, plus causes and circumstances of death, into a comprehensive data, set.” In a way, this gave permission to data journalists around the world to get creative about how they collect data on violence against marginalized groups.
Deadly Force. People killed by the police in Kenya
Daily Nation
This is a great example of how the Counted inspired other data journalists to collect data and report on an issue that would have been too editorially risky to report on without a firm grounding in data. The database is based on public, media and human rights reports, and on official records held by agencies of the Government of Kenya. It basically provides safety in numbers. Even though the government tried to dispute the story, it cannot realistically contest every single data point. So the team was able to subvert censorship by relying on the database to explore the issue of police violence across the country. Similar stories that did not rely on data, like Al Jazeera’s Inside Kenya’s Death Squad(https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/KenyaDeathSquads/), were only feasible because it was reported by a foreign journalist in a foreign media outlet.
Machine Bias
ProPublica
This is one of the pioneering stories both about how algorithms have begin to control our lives and also how data journalists are trying to get around the difficulty of accessing data about criminal justice, especially once people are sent to prison. Now, racial bias and gender bias in AI systems have become their own genre of data journalism and there is a growing recognition that these issues disproportionately impact people on the wrong side of the digital and data divide.
Most jailed drug offenders are poor, illiterate
Pajhwok Afghan News
There are few populations that are harder to reach than Afghan prisoners. This story is innovative not because of its use of technology and visualizations, but because it manages to use survey data to paint a picture of who has been imprisoned under Afghan’s anti-drug legislation (farmers and drivers). It proves that in the face of crushing poverty and no job opportunities, criminal justice is not of much use, a common refrain in many countries. The story is also available in English, Dari, and Pashtu, providing access to accountability journalism for a population frustrated with their own political system.
Shrinking Digital and Data Divide