If you thought data stored by government agencies was boring, think again. Data can be questionable or hard to interpret. Serbian journalists how to work with statistics at a DW Akademie workshop held in Belgrade.
Whether Winston Churchill actually thought up his famous quote "I only believe in statics I doctored myself" or whether someone else did, has never been clear. But these days one thing is: it's now much harder to manipulate statistics than it was in Churchill's days, and data journalism has made it even harder.
There was a time when investigative journalists would spend days or weeks sifting through the documents stored in archives. But because authorities now often store data electronically, tools like "Google Spreadsheets" or "Fusion Tables" make it much easier for journalists to find out what's behind the numbers.
It's also become easier to dust offerger old stories, so it's no surprise that data journalism has been finding its way into editorial offices in general, and since the summer, into the Serbian media sector, as well.
DW Akademie is currently developing a data journalism training project together with chief editors from leading Serbian media. "This is currently a pilot project," says DW Akademie project manager Filip Slavkovic. "We're introducing data journalism to editorial offices in Belgrade, and if it's successful, it can be used in other regions as well," he says.
Discovering data journalism
In the first phase, participants learned how to work with data journalism. Those taking part included journalists from renowned Serbian editorial offices such as B92, Politik, RTS and Danas, as well as members of the "Balkan Investigative Reporting Network" (BIRN) and staff from the non-governmental organization CRTA.
With DW Akademie trainer and multimedia journalist, Peter Berger, participants looked at how to analyze public statistics, uncover discrepancies, use various data analysis tools and visualize the results. "When workshops like this get underway, participants usually shy away from numbers and data," Berger says. "But this quickly changes when they see how easy it is to use tools for analyzing data."
With the hands-on workshop journalists got going on their own projects. Gordan Brkic, for example, is the chief editor of Danas Online, and created a map showing Belgrade's most dangerous intersections. CRTA's Larisa Rankovic worked on visualizing the damages resulting from recent floods and the donations that came in as a reponse. She published the results on Facebook, and proudly pointed out that she had now "done some data journalism". The tools used in the workshop are available online and are free of charge.
Part of a journalist's workday
In the second phase of the project, DW Akademie trainers will be showing editorial offices how data journalism can become integral to researching, writing and visualizing reports. Journalists trained by DW Akademie will also be showing the benefits to colleagues.
In the third phase, editorial offices will be taking part in a Belgrade project initiated by the German development agency, GIZ. The idea is to give the city's residents more say in the way tax money is spent. The GIZ is currently developing an online map where residents will be able to point to areas badly in need of funding. Editorial offices will then be able to use the map to look for and research new stories.
This winter DW Akademie trainer Peter Berger will also be working with the "Balkan Investigative Reporting Network" on a data journalism handbook focusing on Serbian data banks and research possibilities - once again making it even harder to doctor statistics.
"More than just numbers: Enhancing dialogue on taxes in Serbia" is a joint project between DW Akademie and GIZ. The aim is to strengthen the media's role in governance processes by the end of 2014. The project is financed by Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Development and Cooperation.