Random ramblings from a national democrat.
In a world of growing demands for readily accessible information online, Data Journalism and Computer Assisted reporting is a currently an emerging necessity in today’s landscape of news reporting.
In the 1st world, news sites such as The Guardian’s Data Blog are leading the practice, successfully visualizing otherwise complicated stories that often deal with economic statistics.
Links to full spreadsheets and official government data are readily downloadble, and are presented systematically in tables and vivid and interactive flash animation. However, how do our own local newsites fare with today’s growing demand for CAR and Data Journalism?
CAR in the Philippines
In developing countries such as the Philippines, news websites are slowly trying to catch up on this growing trend, especially with a large quantity of audiences shifting from print to online for news.
Due to this, once exclusively print media outfits such as PinoyWeekly (PW) have now chosen to totally migrate into the online world.
For news organizations such as them however, who have just recently migrated online, such moves into the future necessitates a change of language and form .
This has been a coping problem for similar organizations, including print news organizations who also maintain a news website.
Gathering the Data
Ilang-Ilang Quijano, executive director of PinoyMedia Center (publisher of PinoyWeekly) and a writer of PW, shares to us the inner workings of Pinoyweekly with regards to the use of computer-assisted reporting (CAR) and data journalism in their daily grind.
Being able to take up CAR as a course in her master’s degree, Quijano says that certain tips really helped her out in effectively working with search engines and creating databases in their daily press work.
However, in terms of working with large amounts of data and statistics, she admits that it didn’t quite turn out to be that helpful practically.
“Hindi siya naging ganuon ka-helpful dahil unang una, hindi naman ganuon ka-open magprovide ng info yung gubyerno, or hindi ganuon kabilis, tapos definitely hindi computerized, ” says Quijano. (It didn’t really get to maximize the skill because the government isn’t that open to provide information, or it isn’t that fast to access, and definitely not computerized.)
In gathering data, the group utilizes search engines in search of readily available government data on the web. Most of the time however, they rely on NGOs such as IBON Foundation, Agham, Kalikasan-PNE, Migrante, etc. to supply them with information.
“Mostly naman, yung mga NGOs (non-government organizations) kumukha lang din sa gov’t eh. O di kaya dun sa kanilang practical experiences (such as in fact-finding missions)… na labas sa duon sa official data na nilalabas ng government.” (Most of the time, NGOs access data from the government. Sometimes it comes from their practical experiences as well [such as in fact finding-missions]… Such data are not supplied by the government.)
She adds that groups such as Migrante have encountered so much complaints in their everyday work among the sector that they were able to compute for the average processing fee the government charges for OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), which now amounts to roughly Php 26,000, up from earlier accounts of Php 18,000.
“The government cannot provide for such data precisely because they do not want to publicize it,” she adds.
For outfits such as them, data gathering is everyone’s task. “Kami-kami din, multi-tasking kami!” chuckles Quijano as she admits the office’s small number of staffers. (Everyone has to do such work, we work via multi-tasking here!)
Having smartphones in whole day coverages also help them in updating their website’s Twitter feeds, says Ilang. For a small organization running on limited funds, 50 peso load for unlimited surfing a day does a lot to update the site with breaking news and up-to-the-minute data.
Changing the tone — The Presentation
A small non-profit organization, PinoyWeekly (or Pinoy as some people call it) at the most experiments in using third-party tools in order to present data in a new light.
After the latest Tubbataha Reef incident concerning the U.S. Navy Vessel, PW used tools such as Dippity in showcasing an interactive timeline showing past “U.S. transgressions” in Philippine sovereignty.
This coverage has been some of the few instances in which PW has started using such techniques in presenting data, a guilty plea of the news organization.
“Hindi pa rin kami masyadong ka-well versed duon, mas nagsisimula pa lang kaming maghanap ng iba’t-ibang klase ng tools,” says Quijano. (We are still not yet well versed in using different third-party services as we’re still starting to search for different kinds of tools)
Armed only with staff members who were mostly trained in writing and taking pictures, Quijano admits that they are still short of experts who can professionally present such data in a very pleasing and creative manner.
“Ngayon, wala naman kaming sariling developer kasi limited yung staff namin… More or less may technical skills na involved. So unless may third-party applications, gaya ng dippity, unless may ganuon, parang mahirap.” (Currently, we do not have our own developer because of our limited staff members… More or less technical skills are involved here. So unless we utilize third-party applications like Dippity, it’s really hard for us.)
She once tried using storify she says, but admitted at not really getting it, and getting into it.
“Kasi nga print kami. So yung mas nagagawa namin (nuon) yung info-graphics. Pero ngayon, siyempre hindi pwedeng basta infographics,” says Quijano. (It’s because we came from print. So we’re used to making infographics. But now, simple infographics won’t do.)
If anything, she does not want to just place graphs and infographics, as it might end up looking like another internet meme, “Nakokornihan kasi ako sa ganuon eh. O baka mataas lang siguro standards ko.” (It’s just that might look a little corny. I might just have set a high standard on that one.)
“Kelangan mas interactive. Iba yung infographics ng print, iba rin yung pang-online. Pwedeng okay siya sa print, tapos chaka sa online, interactive dapat,” she adds. (It needs to be interactive. Print infographics are one thing, online is another. It might appear okay in print but crappy online, it should be interactive at least.)
In this time and age, Ilang notes that the knowledge and skills in programming such as flash are highly valued in today’s online journalism.
However for economic data and other statistics, due to their lack of expertise and their highly featurized content, the staff almost always incorporates the data within the piece itself as a tool for analysis.
From time to time, they use tables in order to present data.As a news organization, they say that they don’t want to flood their readers with too much data, but only pic significant data that will contextualize upon the issue and enable their readers to think and decide for themselves. “The simpler, the better,” Quijano says. “It’s only the government that complicates these kinds of things in order to confuse the general public.”
If anything, they’re against “data for data’s sake.”
To make things a little bit interactive, the staff gets opinions from readers regarding political issues from time to time.
Video narratives through their Youtube account and slide shows through third-party-applications such as Soundslides are also used in their presentations/short documentaries in order to create a more compelling type of story telling featuring different grassroots sectors.
Current Limitations and Plans for the Future
Due to constraints in budget and technical programmers who can do flash, there are still a lot of things that PinoyWeekly wants to do in order to improve their story telling through CAR and Data Journalism.
“There’s still a lot of room for improvement in our site. For example, that of a moving photo-gallery, interactive and animated flash, etc,” says Quijano.
How it compares with foreign news websites
Unlike The Guardian, PinoyWeekly, still isn’t capable of providing more interactive graphics such as this one, undeniably a flash based infographic. Due to this, Quijano notes that they still cannot fully compete with others that could (such as Rappler/Interaksyon).
It might also help PW should they publish more infographics in their site, even if it isn’t flashed based. Theguardian also does this in their reports, and it’s a great help for people to visualize and illustrate the relevance of their data. Much of the people online now are visual learners, including kids and the masses which they target as an audience.
However, they’re not really that behind in terms of local news reporting. A lot of news websites today are also hounded by this problem, especially those who man print who just happens to maintain websites as well. Others, such as PDI, Manila Bulletin and Philippine Star are a little bit guilty of just copy pasting data from their print counterparts.
Overall, there’s still a lot for PW to improve on. Relatively however, they’re fairing quite well visually and in terms of interactivity compared with other news websites. Only expecting them to get better in years to come.