Sunday, October 11, 2015

Handful of data journalists shake up Mexican Congress

The truth hurts, especially when the truth is contained in receipts from bars, hotels, spas, and luxury vehicle dealers.
Israel Piña, from Quien Compro website.

A group of five young Mexican journalists has spent the past year or so sifting through thousands of expense reports of Mexico's senators and deputies (congress) to see how they are using taxpayers' money.

Among their scoops:
  • Members of the Senate bought 10 Harley-Davidson motorcycles at a cost of 2.12 million Mexican pesos, or about US$130,000, in order to serve their constituents better. 
  • Senators spent 43,800 pesos on 210 bottles of wine, or US$2,700 in a four-month period.
  • One senator bought a loaded Yukon Denali SUV for 890,000 pesos, or $60,000, for the use of an obscure agency whose purpose is to "do studies to help the Congress make decisions." The senator declined to respond to numerous requests for comment. 
Cartoon that accompanied the Harley-Davidson exposé.
Versión en español

These journalists, led by Israel Piña, 33, were doing the investigative work in their spare time, for nothing. So they were surprised that their reports attracted enough attention that a year ago, television stations and major print media outlets -- including El Universal newspaper -- began paying them for their content.

They were providing a kind of investigative journalism that no one else was doing. Typically, political reporters in Mexico spend their time covering the pronouncements and accusations of the political class. It is very much inside baseball. They don't do much basic research using public documents.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Laid-off journalist finds niche in data visualization

Getting laid off is not always a bad thing for a journalist. In the case of Manuel Benito Ingelmo, it created an opportunity for him to develop something he had been thinking about for a long time.

Manuel Benito Ingelmo. Photo by
He was a business journalist in Salamanca, Spain, with an interest in statistics and data visualization.  He felt that print newspapers were definitely on the way out, he told me in an interview via Skype.

"I wanted to make the jump to a digital publication but I did not want to do the same thing as we were doing on paper."

Versión en español

So when he was laid off from a small daily in 2012, he took his severance package and began to experiment with how to take advantage of the strengths of digital media -- interactivity, instantaneous publication, potential massive audience -- to create a journalistic product or service that would build on databases that were already available.

He and a handful of partners started out by giving away simple graphics on unemployment to media organizations. His idea was that these organizations could use these graphics instead of stock photos of people in unemployment lines. "In just two or three months, we reached 100 media organizations throughout Spain. We found that there was a market niche, the possibility to sell something. Then we had the problem of how much to charge for the service."