Seminar Critique: “Data Journalism Hackathon: Red Flags in the NSRF Programs”

hackathon

By Minos-Athanasios Karyotakis

“Data Journalism Hackathon: Red Flags in the NSRF Programs” was successfully held on 31 March and 10 April by the Open Knowledge Foundation of Greece, the School of Journalism and Mass Communications of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH) and the Journalists’ Union of Macedonia and Thrace Daily Newspapers.

This workshop was one of the initiatives that the Open Knowledge Foundation of Greece takes yearly in order to train journalists in the field of data journalism via using or testing brand new tools for helping the professional of the field to narrate news stories with the usage of data, graphs, infographics etc. According to Eva Constantaras: “Data journalism enables journalists to go deeper into issues to find out the root causes for why people are getting sick or well, getting an education or not, finding jobs or not and put this information into context for citizens. With better information about the root problems facing society, the audience can make better, more informed decisions for their families, communities, and government”.

The concept of data journalism is new and it owes its origins to the technological breakthroughs of the last decade and the expanding of Internet. Open Knowledge Foundation had created a lot of tools for data journalists and tested all of them via holding workshops for journalists. This time it wanted to examine the procedure of creating news stories with the tool ‘Red Flags’.  The ‘Red Flags’ application uses data from Development.gov.gr (Ανάπτυξη), the official website of the Greek Ministry of Development and Competitiveness, which provides detailed information on the process of implementing the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) programs and analyses them for identifying potential red flags. Red flags are defined as sets of cases that exhibit unusual behaviour (values) compared to other cases. It is emphasized that red flags do not indicate the ‘guilty’ or the ‘innocence’ of a project. They simply provide warning signs. Also, the application provides the user with the ability to retrieve the decisions made on the Diaugeia (Διαύγεια) site for a project.

On the first day of the programme there was the presentation of the application and some members of the team of the Foundation showed to the participants their efforts in using ‘Red Flags’ and trying to figure out if the red flag of a specific project could lead to illegal activities and corruption. However, they argued that it was difficult for them to find out what is really happening due to the everlasting problem of Greek bureaucracy. The data that are provided are not always correct. They come from the official website of the Greek Ministry of Development and Competitiveness, as a result there is always the chance of misinformation. It rests on journalists’ shoulder to understand the meaning of the indication of ‘Red Flags’.

Subsequently the participants of the workshop were divided into pairs in order to find a problematic project with the ‘Red Flags’ application and create a news story. The findings and the news story was presented on the second and last day of the workshop (10 April, 2017). However, the limited number of the participants along with their weak willingness of providing a final piece of a news story could not help for drawing final conclusions. One thing is for sure though, that ‘Red Flags’ is a useful tool for journalists and can help them to detect easier cases that are related to illegal activities. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that “the media today can be seen as having four major responsibilities or functions.  These are to persuade or present opinion, to inform, to entertain, and to regulate.  Not least among these is the regulatory function of the media.  The practice of this function, called watchdog journalism, is a style of writing or broadcast aimed at identifying a current societal problem, either hidden or overt, and offering opinion on necessary action” (Eisenman). The aforementioned application and the field of data journalism gives journalists the ability of fulfilling their role and becoming once again powerful watchdogs.

This article was one of my assignments for completing the course of Science Journalism.

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