Costa Rica’s La Nación newspaper pioneers investigative data journalism in Latin America

  • By Guest
  • October 16, 2012

By Zach Dyer

In 1994, journalist Giannina Segnini founded a one-woman investigative unit—herself—at Costa Rica’s La Nación newspaper. Since then, the unit has grown into a five-person team that is trailblazing data journalism in Latin America, according to Journalism.co.uk.

“Two years ago we started an experiment that combined the investigative methods that we have been using for years with the power of data and and [sic] database analysis," Segnini told the website Journalism.co.uk.

The unit’s software automatically scrapes websites and public databases for information and organizes it using Google Refine. Finally, the unit uses a powerful IBM repository server called i2 — a software also used by the FBI and CIA, according to Segnini — to consolidate all the collected data and visualize it in real time, reported Journalism.co.uk. Once it’s collected, the unit’s data can be shared across the La Nación newsroom.

The result is a process Segnini called, “zero-waste” data collection. "The concept is based on the belief that there has to be no waste in data," Segnini said. "Every new dataset is a new ingredient. And if you have all the information in different databases, if you relate and correlate everything, you may have a wider way to explain things.”

This approach to data collection and analysis allows La Nación’s investigative journalism unit to discover stories without waiting for a source to tip them off, Segnini told Journalism.co.uk.

In 2010, Segnini led an online collaboration for Colombia’s Newsroom Council (CdR in Spanish) to investigate carbon credit trading in Latin America. The CdR course used the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas’ distance education platform to connect 89 journalists across 11 countries.

The Knight Center recently announced its first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on infographics and data visualization. This free course will be taught in English by University of Miami’s Alberto Cairo, an internationally renowned expert in the field.

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.

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