2015 was the year of data journalism in Brazil, journalists concluded at a seminar by ANJ and the Knight Center at Google

This year, the most prestigious award of the Brazilian press, ExxonMobil Award of Journalism (formerly known as Esso Award, or Prêmio Esso), went to a story that used a public online database as its main source. On the night of Nov. 12, two members of the Estadão Dados team, José Roberto de Toledo and Rodrigo Burgarelli, along with reporter Paulo Saldaña, won the award in the main category for “Farra no Fiés” (Farra in Fiés).

For the first time, a work of data journalism was awarded the country's most important journalism award, an example of how these kinds of projects done at media outlets are maturing. Advances seen in this field were the subject of a seminar organized by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas and the Brazilian National Association of Newspapers (ANJ for its acronym in Portuguese) at Google's headquarters in São Paulo, Brazil.

Estadão Dados was among the first data journalism groups formed within a Brazilian newsroom. The professional team is dedicated to capturing and processing information using statistical techniques, algorithms and visual presentations for the newspaper O Estado de S.Paulo and the site Estadão.com. The pioneering work of the team of José Roberto de Toledo, one of the leading evangelists of using reporting techniques with computer assistance – the precursor of current techniques used in data journalism - has gained ground among Brazilian journalists.

On the morning of Nov. 12, experienced journalists who work with data gathered at Google’s headquarters. There also were students of the massive open online course (MOOC) of the Knight Center, “Basic Techniques of Data Journalism,” who made outstanding projects during training.

Rodrigo Burgarelli, before flying to Rio de Janeiro to attend the Esso award ceremony, attended the seminar and explained the process of developing the winning project.

"We collected data available on the transparency website of the federal government. Many bases were consulted and I had to write code to organize them. The success of Fiés only confirms the potential of working with data, there are many available data that have not yet been explored,” the reporter said.

Daniel Bramatti, also from Estadão Dados, showed publications of Atlas Político, which brings together key staff from the team to explain the Brazilian political scene.

Opening the seminar, Natália Mazotte and Marco Túlio Pires, coordinators of Escola de Dados and instructors for the the Knight Center MOOC, showed some data from recent courses that indicate the growth in demand and supply of training on the use of data journalism techniques.

"This was the largest class in massive training offered in Portuguese by the Knight Center, with nearly 5000 participants. On-site training by Escola de Dados has also grown. Abraji already offers the third edition of its online course on data journalism. We are seeing a growing interest for knowledge that comes from other areas, such as statistics and programming, applied to journalistic work," Mazotte noted.

For Tiago Mali, course coordinator at Abraji, we must seize the momentum to encourage best practices among journalists, look at how to give more transparency to the process of calculation and use of data, provide the raw data that was used to other stakeholders.

"This is a practice that we already see on platforms like Upshot of The New York Times and The Guardian. The journalist leaves the single narrator pedestal and opens up to the horizontality of information," Mali said in his presentation.

New data journalism initiatives

It’s not only the Esso award and the increase in interest from print media professionals that has made 2015 the year for data journalism in Brazil. New independent ventures anchored in data journalism emerged this year, like J ++, Brazil's first data journalism agency, and the Volt Data Lab, also dedicated to producing stories from data.

The members of  J ++ attending the seminar said that the initiative is seeking clients and funding models to create viable data journalism projects in newsrooms.

Thomaz Rezende, designer and one of the agency's founders, along with Mazotte, Pires, Mali and Juan Torres, presented the project "Temporary prisoners, permanent damage," created with the programmer Fabio Andrade for the organization Viva Rio.

Sérgio Spagnuolo, who created the Volt Data Lab, showed his latest works, such as the mapping of dams at risk in the country and a map with environmentalists who were murdered in 2014.

The seminar also was attended by professionals who have led efforts to form new data teams in traditional media outlets. Denize Neumann, special reporter of Valor Econômico, announced the paper's plans to create a data blog.

"We want to make more visualizations and interactive works. This area in Valor is growing organically, from the initiative of our own reporters who understand that the data is very necessary to give more context to their stories," Neumann said.

Rafael Sbarai, from Globo.com, showed some cases of how data journalism has been used in the sports area to generate new revenue for platforms, from sponsored content, in and outside of Brazil.

Students from the MOOC present their projects

Seated at the table of the Data Journalism Seminar, there were guests, who presented their work and cases related to data journalism, and eight students of the MOOC, Basic Techniques of Data Journalism, selected from the best projects presented during the course.

Rogério Moreira Júnior (Jornal Notícias do Dia/Florianópolis), Lilian Venturini (Nexo Jornal/São Paulo), Eduardo Militão (Correio Braziliense/Brasília), Vivian Guilherme Marques (Jornal Cidade/Rio Claro), Pedro Thiago Ezequiel de Andrade (Freelancer/Fortaleza), Lucas Thaynan Gomes dos Santos (Universidade Federal de Alagoas/Maceió), Luana Alves Damaceno (Blog A Diabetes e Eu/São Paulo) and Tânia Campelo Alves (Código 12 Comunicação Integrada/São José dos Campos) showed their projects and discussed with the other guests the challenges and prospects for the use of data becoming a daily practice for journalists.

"I'm managing to apply much of what I learned in the course in my professional routine. The course opened my mind, I have since published several data-based articles in the newspaper," said Vivian Marques, of the newspaper Cidade de Rio Claro.

At the end of the event, participants spoke about ideas to form a network of data journalists and of preparing to carry out a major seminar on the subject next year.

The massive course Basic Techniques of Data Journalism was the third MOOC in Portuguese that the Knight Center has organized in partnership with the ANJ, with Google's support. The first was "Introduction to Data Visualization and Infographics" and the second was "Introduction to Mobile Journalism", both held in 2014. Before MOOCs, the ANJ opened its international partnership for training with the Knight Center with the course "Introduction the Data Journalism "taught by José Roberto de Toledo.

This was also the 16th MOOC offered by the Knight Center of the University of Texas at Austin since it launched its pioneering program in 2012, which is unique in the world of massive open online courses specializing in journalism. The initiative has benefited over 70,000 people from 160 countries.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.