Journalists launch guide to improve coverage of the 2016 municipal elections in Brazil

Voters of 5,570 Brazilian municipalities will go to the polls this year to choose the future leaders and legislators of their cities. A journalism institute has just released an online manual to help the local journalist whose job it is to inform these citizens ahead of municipal elections.

"There is already a large repository of information available, so we decided to gather a minimum collection of information to guide the reporter concerning what he needs to know in terms of municipal public policy," said Angela Pimenta, president of the Institute for Journalism Development (known as Projor) in an interview with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.

The guide includes information of public interest and addresses the key issues facing municipalities, such as budget, investment capacity, and other responsibilities. Reporters can also access monitoring tools to analyze the performance of each city in relation to the national policies of basic education, health, housing, environment and safety.

"Journalists need to know the vital signs of the municipality. Our obligation as journalists is to contextualize the information, and our mission as those who want to develop journalism in the country is to find tools that are compatible and adopt them," Pimenta said.

The manual is part of the project Big Small Press (GPI for its initials in Portuguese), focused on strengthening the local press and independent journalism, and was created by Projor in partnership with Observatório da Imprensa with support from Google.

For Pimenta, the need to create a manual like this also stems from two peculiarities of local elections this year, which do not look like any previous elections in the democratic history of the country.

First, a severe economic crisis has put 90 percent of Brazilian municipalities in deficit situations, Pimenta said. Second, electoral reform passed in 2015 changed several rules, particularly regarding the financing of campaigns.

Besides serving as a reference source, the manual also includes a series of tools for reporters who want to collect, analyze and visualize information from municipalities.

Journalists Tiago Mali and Vitor Haddad Prado chose applications essential to data journalism for the manual and created some tutorials to facilitate this work: from basic operations to Google spreadsheets to the use of software for obtaining data (IFTTT and Webscaper), analyzing information (Google Fusion Tables and Qlik) and creating infographics (Tableau Public and Infogr.am).

The guide is easily navigable and was organized using the wix website template. The creators decided not to spend money on design in order to invest in gathering and verifying the content for the manual.

The team also plans to carry out qualitative research to analyze the election coverage of the newspapers that use the manual and compare it with reports produced during previous elections. Studies will be conducted by Francisco Belda, professor at the Universidade Estadual Paulista, who also participated in developing the project.

There is also a space for agenda suggestions with tips for broaching the candidate's profile, information about campaign financing, the candidate's level of knowledge on municipal management and diagnosis of the municipality, as well as campaign promises, including whether it is possible to fulfill what is being promised. The suggestions are accompanied by links to tutorials.

"The idea was to facilitate, to the maximum, the work of the journalist in order to make the work of the candidates the most difficult. Because this is good for the voter," Pimenta said.

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.