In late 2012 Chilean journalist Miguel Paz, an ICFJ Knight International Journalism fellow, launched with a group of colleagues a data journalism platform called Poderopedia, which helps reveal the network of relationships between business and government elites in Chile.
Now, the Poderopedia Foundation -- of which Paz is president and aims to promote the use of new technologies to foment transparency -- is making improvements to its platform in order to implement it in several countries in the region and allow users to feed and continually update the network. This year, the foundation will open its second Latin American chapter in Venezuela and its third one in Colombia.
Paz recently spoke with the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, about Poderopedia's birth and rapid growth.
Knight Center: What is Poderopedia?
Miguel Paz: It's a collaborative platform used to understand the web of relationships between people, companies and organizations that play an important role in today's news and influence our daily lives. This platform, as a map of connections, provides data visualizations that, through technology, allow the user to identify who's who in business and politics.
The platform's software is Plug & Play, which anyone can use to create profiles, roles, types of connections, visualizations, define if the content is public or private, link it to other web sites, etc.
One of the resources that this collaborative platform allows users to include is the connection system Application Programming Interface (API). The advantage is that this can be applied to the system itself or to any other media platform or company. For example, we are in conversations with an organization from Argentina that wants to apply the API connection system to make a sort of internal network as LinkedIn.
And in Colombia, there is an independent outlet that investigates and analyzes the "para-politics", the phenomenon that links the old paramilitary world and the world of politics. They have already installed our platform to upload their own directory of parapoliticians to be able to see the connections between them.
CK: What is the goal of providing a free and open data platform?
MP: The idea is to open Poderopedia chapters in the region and the first one will be in Venezuela. We will teach a workshop on data journalism in Venezuela with Mariana Santos, ICFJ - Knight International fellow, and two others of the New York Times and the School of Data.
Following this workshop we will teach another one on how to use Poderopedia since we are launching the Venezuelan chapter of Poderopedia along with the Carter Center and the Institute for Press and Society (IPYS) of that country. The platform will be managed primarily by IPYS researchers.
We will open the second chapter in Colombia, with the the help of organization Consejo de Redacción.
We are also in talks with various Latin American media outlets and other projects working on issues of transparency, accountability and conflicts of interest. I don’t dare to talk about them yet, but they are interested in using our platform, for instance, for projects on elections, justice and politics.
That makes us very happy, and with that we are validating the original hypothesis of this project, which is that it can serve as a tool to help identify a problem and solve it. We are delighted to see this demand for our platform.
What we are doing now is improving Poderopedia's management system, the Plug & Play system of the original platform, to achieve an improved version that is easier to use and understand and that can be used without a handbook.
CK: Why are you launching your first chapters in Venezuela and Colombia?
MP: The priority is to start with Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries, starting with our region. Our choice of Venezuela and Colombia is due to specific conversations and the interest of local organizations, with proved reputation and research capabilities, that have expressed their desire to launch chapters in those countries. Anyway, we are willing to open chapters in other languages and countries. The roadmap is flexible and will be determined by the interest and ability of the organizations interested in launching and sustaining the chapters. Obviously, the primary interest in Venezuela and Colombia is also related to the circumstances of journalistic interest in those countries like transparency issues, freedom of expression, accountability and conflicts of interest. We would also like to open Poderopedia chapters in Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico and Brazil.
CK: Can you give us some examples of how journalists have used the Poderopedia platform?
MP: Many Chilean journalists use Poderopedia to check background information on a specific topic and uncover information that enables them to do further research. Media outlets like El Mostrador, El Mostrador Mercados y Publimetro publish on their websites Poderopedia profiles using our Creative Commons license.
Currently, at least one of these media outlets is using Poderopedia's API to publish information about the presidential elections (that will take place in Chile in Nov. 17).
Projects like Argentina's Cargografías have used data from our platform to make timelines.
We also have disclosed conflicts of interest among authorities, like with Chile's minister of Interior, who owned shares in a company of drinking water, and the director of the Internal Revenue Service and his conglomerate of companies. The profiles of the presidential candidates that we do have been published by various media outlets like Publimetro, which featured them on its 2013 elections package.
You can find an archive of our blog here, where we have recorded all of Poderopedia's activities, their influence in the media and in various others activities.
CK: When and how was Poderopedia born as a project?
MP: Poderopedia was born when I was the managing editor of El Mostrador (the first digital-only newspaper in Chile). Poderopedia was still an idea on a piece of paper when we applied to the Knight Foundation's News Challenge in 2011. This was the first Latin American project to win the Knight News Challenge, inspiring other colleagues in the region to present their proposals to this international fund.
Throughout 2012 we worked hard on it until we decided to launch it on the 12-12-12 at 12:12 am. We wanted a date to remember forever and also a cabalistic one.
The fellowship served to promote the use of the Poderopedia platform and to create chapters of it. Also the promote the international community Hacks/Hackers in Chile and to put together a data journalism handbook. The purpose of this manual, to which we are completely dedicated now, is to report on the current state of data journalism in Latin America and explain how to develop this type of journalism in our countries.
We are doing the handbook in collaboration with the Alberto Hurtado University’s school of journalism. We plan to publish it between March and April of 2014. The goal is to make a comprehensive data journalism handbook that includes the experience of different countries in the region, since they differ from each other on safety issues, politics, information access, transparency laws, and other parameters.
We also organize datathons (data extraction marathons) and radiothons (technology marathons focused on low-cost online radio, which gather journalists, technologists and the people who run them). These spaces are created for people to get to know their peers from other countries and improve their tools and knowledge, and maybe be able to do more things. The issue of the use of radio in Latin America is vital, so it is important to share the technological tools available for radio production in the region.
CK: In your opinion, what is the status of data journalism in Latin America today?
MP: I'll give you this analogy: before, we were crawling; now we are taking our first steps. We cannot talk about data journalism throughout Latin America. Rather, there are beacons of light that in one way or another are inspiring others to put their attention on these things.
This is undoubtedly taking off, people are seeking training, and media owners are beginning to understand and value data journalism and the need for journalists, programmers and designers to work as an interdisciplinary team, an incredibly relevant union to produce quality journalism projects.
Universities are also planning to include more technology in their journalism schools.
In that sense, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, directed by Rosental Alves, has always been an inspiration that is helping move things in this direction. Another very important aspect is the MOOC workshops organized by the Knight Center.
Journalism in the Latin American region needs to accelerate the spread of knowledge and make improvements through workshops with trained people who can explain, in a very short time and from their experience, all you need to know, and what you should not do, in order to do your job. Only this can generate an important acceleration of knowledge.
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.