The International Journalism Festival in Perugia (part 2)

April 28, 2014 in Uncategorized

The third edition of our School of Data Journalism is happening soon. In our previous post, you met Guido Romeo of Wired Italy and data journalist Elisabetta Tola, two journalists whose work has been impacted by the School of Data Jouranlism. Read on to learn how.

The impact of School of Data Journalism

Having attended the Festival every year since 2006, Tola explained that the School of Data Journalism had added a key ‘hands on’ element to it. While there were a few workshops before 2012, Tola feels that the introduction of School of Data Journalism’s interactive workshops has made it much easier for participants to take up data journalism.

“That’s the big change – before School of Data Journalism I was mainly attending seminars and lectures at the Festival, and the few workshops they had weren’t really hands on. There wasn’t any chance to do practical exercises. Most people were pretty lost when introduced to such topics. The School of Data Journalism workshops were well prepared, with tutorial materials made available before the workshop, making it easier to practice as we followed along,” Tola explained.

Tola continued that getting exposure to some of the free tools available to clean and process data had been very useful in her work. She said that while she had a basic prior knowledge of programs like Excel, at the workshops she learnt how to organise and present data to tell stories.

“I never used Excel with the idea of producing an article out of it. To go from downloading or producing an Excel table, to organising the information in a way that you can extract or produce a story – that’s one of the things I definitely got from these workshops”, she said.

The tools and skills acquired at the School of Data Journalism’s workshops have given both Tola and Romeo the confidence to expand their range of projects. In 2012, they both collaborated on a project called ‘Safe Schools’, the first large scale data driven investigation into seismic safety of Italian public schools, with Italy having one of highest seismic risk in the world.

“Our broader work was to do with communication seismic prevention and safety issues to the public. Most people in Italy are not aware of these things, because there is no culture, though we get major earthquakes quite often. Earthquakes are an important issue in Italy that needs to be understood and presented properly,” Tola explained.


Romeo points out that the School of Data Journalism’s sessions had made them realise that to take up data journalism it was not necessary to have perfect infrastructure or vast resources, and that it was possible to launch these projects despite the limitations they had working in an ill-equipped newsroom.

“The important thing was showing that you can do high quality data journalism even if you are not in the US or UK with big budgets and developers in your newsrooms, or even efficient FOIA laws, etc. In fact its not only open data that we learn to use, we know how look for that data anywhere. In the earthquake story you can hardly define that data as open data, it was in a very bad condition. But we learnt all the workarounds and the tricks to deal with that,” Romeo said.

Since the launch of the Data Journalism Handbook, Romeo, in collaboration with others, has helped coordinated its translation into Italian. A first draft has been produced, and Romeo is working on the final version with the aim of launching it in the upcoming 2014 International Journalism Festival in Perugia at the end of April. He feels its a valuable resource to introduce students to data journalism.

“Its something I always recommend when I talk to journalism students. Data journalism is something so new in Italy and none of the journalism schools have it in their curriculum – to give them a general idea and the first tools, the Handbook is fantastic,” he explained.

In 2013, at the Festival, Tola also launched a new data journalism website called She felt that data journalists in Italy, most of whom are freelancers, needed a platform to display and promote their work.

“It’s a sort of a lab, a place for journalists to experiment and publish such works. I have many students who have been encouraged and worked on pieces that we published. From that some of their work got published in major news outlets who are hungry for new and innovative things. It’s really working well,” Tola said.

Romeo and Tola are both looking forward to participating in this year’s sessions at the Festival, and would like to see more of these hands on workshops that can broaden their skill sets and range of tools to deal with data.

Romeo concluded, “My only regret with Perugia is that I have done so many panels that I have sometimes missed very useful sessions. With the Festival so successful and an increasing choice of amazing panelists available, this year, I am going to cut down a bit on my own panels and go more as a student, be part of the audience, and learn.”

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