Journalists that rely on numbers to tell stories face three obstacles.
The first one is the absence of data. A few times we may have an idea for an article, but the data needed to write it do not exist. It would be great, for example, to analyze the relationship between political campaign’s fundraising and donors’ influence in government. But naturally it’s very hard to quantify something as abstract as influence in government.
The second obstacle is inherent to journalism: sometimes simply there’s no news. We get the data, do the math, but there’s no story worth telling.
But while the first obstacle is not that surprising and the second inherent to our job, it’s the third one that really gets to our nerves. It is the most frequent one, too. Often the data exists – and we know they’re news-worthy – but those who hold them refuse to share them.
While producing this website, contaRio went through three experiences representative of how hard it is to obtain data – two with the public sector; one with the private sector.
One of the stories we wanted to tell regarded the removal of people living in favelas due to the infrastructure projects in progress because of the Fifa World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. On Monday, February 10, we contacted the Municipal Department for Habitation with a request for data about the removals of favela population in the last few years.
These are data that the local government certainly holds, as it is its responsibility to coordinate the relocations. In the request, we informed the department of our deadline. We never got an answer. Without the data, we could not analyze one of the most controversial aspects of Rio’s preparation to receive the two largest sport events in the world.
We also sought to discuss the situation of public transit in the city. In order to do that, we sent an e-mail on January 31st, listing the data we would need to write a comprehensive story on the subject. No answer ever came. We had to find open data online, but the information was incomplete, thus curtailing the scope of the story.
It is true that the recently-signed access to Information Law asserts that all these data should be available upon a formal request. However, journalism and the law work in different paces. While the law states that government must provide an answer to the request within 20 days, this website that you now browse was built in more or less one week.
Finally, the law does not require that private institutions abide to the same standards of transparency required of public ones. And it was in trying to obtain information of public interest – held in private hands – that contaRio journalists had more trouble.
With the goal of examining the price variation in match tickets before and after the reform in Maracanã Stadium, we contacted at the start of the week the main soccer organizations in the country. We sought to have access to ticket prices and the number of tickets sold in the stadium in the last 50 years. These are data that those organizations certainly have – or once had — as the money distributed among the teams are based on them.
Upon hearing our request, the press secretary for the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) simply hang up and refused to answer our many calls; the Football Federation for the State of Rio de Janeiro (Ferj) informed that it was obliged only to provide data for the last two years – which was essentially useless for our purposes, as Maracanã Stadium was mostly closed during this time; and scholars researching the history of soccer who we contacted told us that they have been trying to obtain the same data for the last five years, without any results. Thus, the ticket prices of Brazil’s main stadium you’ll find in these pages are not official. Rather, they are the collaboration of a ticket collector.
Data journalism allows us to tell stories with unprecedented precision and with easy-to-grasp visualization. But without accurate data, there is no data journalism.
We know little about german journalism in Brazil, unfortunately. But during our workshop at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation I realised that, notwithstanding some cultural differences, we are closer than I thought we could be. We believe in the same sort of quality journalism.
Lucas de Abreu Maia, 28, reporter and data analyst at Estadão Dados, São Paulo