Data Harvest: Planting seeds of journalism collaboration

June 10, 2016 in Event report, Fellowship

From a tiny sprout of 35 people who were interested in EU spending on Farming Subsidies six years ago, this year Data Harvest grew to a 350+ attendees conference that shared stories, inspirations, methods and practical skills with European data journalists. The famous #PanamaPapers investigation was in the center of everyone’s attention as it embedded the core values of modern investigation projects: cross-border collaboration between local newsrooms all around the world and data-driven computer-mediated approach that blends together with conventional investigative journalism methods.

Mar Cabra (ICIJ) invites newsrooms to collaborate on global data-driven investigations:

It’s all about collaboration

Panama Papers investigation sets a perfect example for fighting the so called “Gollum journalism” [reference from the Lord of the Rings trilogy] that presumes that journalists should keep every exclusive piece of information to themselves, even if a story crosses the borders.

“If the journalists from SZ had not shared the data with ICIJ and us with more than 370 journalists, Panama Papers would not have happened.” concludes Mar Cabra while sharing 10 tips for conducting collaborative investigations:

The notion of collaboration as a key to big scale data-driven investigations that can change things for good was floating in the air not only during the talks, keynotes and sessions. It was soaking through every conversation in the networking space, during the lunch and on the way to sessions that were scheduled across two floors in two buildings.

Back to the future

A day before the conference coders and data-savvy journalists could join a traditional hackathon dedicated for data projects about EU spending. This is how it all started.

Brigitte Alfter, the Editor at the, remembers the time when she was working as a correspondent for a Danish newspaper covering European affairs. At that time she realised that many so-thought national stories exceed borders of a single European country and affect the all EU member states all together. One of such matters is EU spending.

Therefore teams at the hackathon worked on data collection about EU cohesion funds, finalized a database about EU tenders, merged datasets about EU farming subsidy beneficiaries with illegal polluters as well as pulled data about EU sanctions and regional development funds. Some of the projects are expected to be continued, like Open Spending database crowdsourced by Open Knowledge and the data base about European tenders that keeps being updated since the previous hackathons.

Many tracks to go

Tailored for busy journalists, the conference lasted from Friday to Sunday. The three-day program consisted of eight thematic tracks.

The most hands-on track was Data Lab. The track consisted of step-by step hands-on tutorials for working with Excel, SQL, R, Python, Open Refine, Carto DB and many more. The coordinator of the track data journalist Crina Boros made sure, every attendee can progress from the basics working on Excel to analysing data programmatically in just three days (!!!).

Cross-border track shared the investigations conducted by international journalists working on a problem that concerns more than one country. One of such stories was “The Criminal Migrant Shipping Network”. The team of 9 journalists and experts managed to discover who is behind illegal shipping of migrants across the mediterranean using shipping database and researching the ownership structures behind the suspicious ships. The project was funded by the, the organiser of the event and promoter of cross-border investigations.

Many practical suggestions, learnings and inspirations were shared during the Data track, that covered every aspect of working with data. Besides this year special attention was also devoted for more administrative issues, as funding of data journalism projects, security while conducting an online research, how to do “wobbing” and cover Tax and Finance.

Planting relationships

Data Harvest is the most important event for data journalists in Europe. It’s steady growth ensures diversity of experiences, ideas and skills to combine for big scale data-driven investigations across borders. Its sessions inspire and build practical competences while the networking during, between and after the session builds connections that grow into relationships and friendship. There are not enough words to express the mood floating around. Perhaps images will do a better job. Though… yeah, better come and taste the fruits of Data Harvest next year. Meanwhile check resources from the conference here.

Flattr this!