DesenreDatos: Striving for transparency through data journalism | Latin America | DW | 25.05.2023
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DesenreDatos: Striving for transparency through data journalism

Journalist Franklin Vega has been investigating tuna production in Ecuador since taking data journalism courses offered by the DesenreDatos project, an initiative by DW Akademie and GIZ.

"In Ecuador, there’s a lack of official figures when it comes to tuna imports", said Franklin Vega. The journalist wants to find out more about tuna production in the country, not just in terms of the fishing done by Ecuador but also in how much tuna is imported.

The investigative journalist is the editor of the independent media outlet Bitácora Ambiental and has worked for more than 24 years in both the public and private sectors. Last year, he learned about data journalism and the possibility to request, analyze and visualize large databases of information. This would enable him to monitor and later follow up on issues related to the global economy, as well as commitments to transparency and open government that were made in Ecuador.

Vega focused on the lack of transparency in Ecuador's tuna industry, which is one of the largest in the world. According to data from the National Chamber of Fisheries (CNP), tuna makes up five percent of Ecuador's GDP. According to Vega’s research, these official figures contradict each other and leave many questions unanswered.

"For example, Ecuador’s Central Bank and the National Customs Service provided data on the amount of tuna imported, but the origin of approximately 200,000 tons worth some $340 million still has to be determined," said Vega.

Ecuador Projekt der DW Akademie

For months, Vega compared information from different sources and databases

Investigating with the help of data

Combining investigative journalism with data was key to his work on the tuna industry. After spending months researching – he sent in three requests for information from Ecuadorian public agencies, cross-referenced national databases with global databases on the tuna trade, received editorial support and checked the final text – Vega published his investigation in Bitácora Ambiental, a publication that specializes in environmental issues.

Vega's first encounter with data journalism was a training course and journalism scholarship offered by DesenreDatos. This project is part of the SinCero program in Ecuador supported by the German development organization, GIZ, and being implemented by DW Akademie together with the Universidad de las Américas (UDLA).

The initiative fosters dialogue between journalists, civil society organizations and public sector officials to promote access, analysis and publication of public data in Ecuador, key steps for preventing corruption and strengthening democracy.

A new world of information 

For a month, Vega and 60 other participants from different sectors of Ecuadorian society acquired tools for searching, cleaning, analyzing and visualizing data. They also learned more about open government, the legal framework for working with public information in Ecuador and the integration of gender perspectives when dealing with data. Using this new knowledge, Vega was able to shape his own research project.

"I used some of the course assignments to develop the research proposal, analyze a world that was opening up to me – that of database structures that contained abundant information – as well as the tools to analyze and visualize those structures," he explained. "One of the tools I discovered called Flourish allowed me to integrate the data as dynamic graphic elements in the news story."

Ecuador Projekt der DW Akademie

Data journalism can compliment more traditional, boots-on-the-ground investigations

Vega also took part in a trip to Berlin as part of a delegation of nine representatives from different Ecuadorian media and organizations organized by DesenreDatos. There, they learned firsthand about various regional, national and international projects that produced news pieces based on information collected in large databases.

"Now I know that data management is like an iceberg, and I’ve just begun to glimpse the tip," said Vega. “There’s still so much to learn!"

DesenreDatos fosters dialogue between journalists, civil society organizations and public sector officials to research, analyze and publish work based on public data. Its work contributes to moving Ecuadorian society toward more transparency and assisting in the fight against corruption.

The DesenreDatos project was implemented by DW Akademie in partnership with the Universidad de Las Américas (UDLA) and with support from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). It is part of the Ecuador SinCero program of the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).

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