Archive for May 2012 at IJNet: Data journalism project hopes to trace Argentina’s desaparecidos

by Maite Fernandez


A data journalism project hopes to show what happened to thousands of people who disappeared during the violent rule of Argentina’s military dictatorship.

The fate of these desaparecidos, or disappeared, will be tracked by Mapa76, an open software platform started in Buenos Aires about a year ago. Currently in the works, the project will analyze data to find patterns or common destinations of missing persons who initially didn’t seem related, but met the same tragic end.

The idea for Mapa 76, whose name is a nod to the year the military swept into power, came about at a Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires meetup, where members discussed extracting data from public documents from court trials to create a global timeline or map of these life stories–and, they hope, to uncover new connections in the process.

According to the Associated Press, about 13,000 people are officially listed as dead or missing as a result of the “Dirty War”, although human rights organizations put the toll at nearly 30,000. Thirty-six years after the coup, court cases have generated a wealth of information, including fresh testimonies and evidence.

Mariano Blejman, creator of the project and editor-in-chief of Suplemento No, told IJNet that Mapa76 will use data mining, big data and data visualization to reach its goal.

To mine information contained in court documents, Mapa76 will include three modules to extract, query and debug contextual data and data visualization on maps and timelines.

The software it uses, built on Ruby, will sift through documents using defined search patterns such as personal names, organizations, places and dates. When it finds words that match the query, it will funnel that info into a database. Blejman expects the work to result in a timeline such as this chart explaining the plot of multi-episode films like “The Lord of the Rings” or “Jurassic Park” or this one of Napoleon’s campaign in Russia.

Blejman hopes the platform will serve as an exportable model for any journalism project that uses large amounts of data, from social conflicts to complex legal cases.

“Data journalism is used to interpret large volumes of data and requires certain tools to do so, tools that we journalists don’t have available or don’t know how to use,” he said.

Co-founded by Blejman, Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires recently hosted a hackathon to work on this and other projects.

It may take time for Mapa76 to chart new territory, but Blejman is determined.

“If you have an obsession, never let it go,” he said.

IJnet sobre Mapa76: revelando secretos de la última dictadura argentina a través del periodismo de datos

by Maite Fernandez


Saber más sobre el destino y los tortuosos caminos recorridos por las personas desaparecidas durante la última dictadura militar argentina.

Ese es el objetivo de Mapa76, una plataforma de software abierto que surgió en Buenos Aires hace casi un año y que se propone utilizar el periodismo de datos para encontrar patrones o destinos comunes en personas desaparecidas que no estaban relacionadas, pero que recorrieron los mismos trágicos caminos.

Las cifras oficiales de desaparecidos durante la última dictadura militar argentina (1976-1983) ascienden a 13.000, pero las organizaciones de derechos humanos afirman que son 30.000.

A 36 años del golpe, los sucesivos procesamientos y causas judiciales generaron una gran cantidad de información, sumada a la aparición de nuevos testimonios.

Durante una reunión del grupo Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires, surgió la idea de crear una plataforma de extracción automática de datos tomando como fuente los documentos públicos que surgen de los juicios de la dictadura y así lograr una visualización de historias de vida que permita descubrir conexiones hasta el momento ignoradas.

Para su creador, el editor del Suplemento No de Página 12, Mariano Blejman, el proyecto tiene como objetivo trabajar conceptos de data mining, big data y visualización de datos.

“Es periodismo de datos, pero sus fuentes son documentos no estructurados”, explicó Blejman a IJNet.

La plataforma, que aún está siendo construida y se espera que esté funcionando en 2015, consta de tres partes: la extracción automática de datos, la consulta y depuración de datos de contexto y la visualización de los datos seleccionados en mapas y líneas de tiempo.

Además, se busca que sea un modelo exportable para cualquier tipo de proyecto periodístico que utilice grandes cantidades de datos, desde conflictos sociales hasta causas judiciales complejas.

El software que usa, construido en Ruby, explora los documentos usando patrones de búsqueda determinados como nombres propios, organizaciones, lugares y fechas. Cuando encuentra las palabras deseadas, las almacena en una base de datos.

La visualización de los datos proyectada se inspira en los plotlines que sirven para explicar películas o acontecimientos, como esta ilustración que explica las historias de los personajes de El Señor de los Anillos o Jurassic Park, y este gráfico que muestra la campaña de Napoleón en Rusia. De este mismo tema trató el último encuentro convocado por Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires, del que Blejman es cofundador.

“El periodismo de datos sirve para interpretar grandes volúmenes de datos, y necesita herramientas propias para hacerlo, herramientas que los periodistas no tenemos a disposición o no sabemos manejar”, dijo.

Probablemente tome algo de tiempo para que Mapa76 avance en este nuevo territorio, pero Blejman parece decidido. Tal vez acechado por su propia obsesión periodística, él dio este consejo para aquellos que recién comienzan en periodismo.

“Si tiene una obsesión, no la deje nunca”, dijo.


Electoral Hack in Realtime as “case studies” at The Data Journalism Handbook


Electoral Hack is political analysis project that visualizes data from the provisional ballot results of the 23 October 2011 elections in Argentina. The system also features information from previous elections and socio-demographic statistics from across the country. The project was updated in real time with information from the provisional ballot count of the national elections of 2011 in Argentina and gave summaries of election results. It was an initiative of Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires with the political analyst Andy Tow, and was a collaborative effort of journalists, developers, designers, analysts, political scientists, and others from the local chapter of Hacks/Hackers.

What data did we use?

All data came from official sources: the National Electoral Bureau provided access to data of the provisional count by Indra; the Department of the Interior provided information about elected posts and candidates from different political parties; a university project provided biographical information and the policy platforms of each presidential ticket; while socio-demographic information came from the 2001 National Census of Population and Housing (INDEC), the 2010 Census (INDEC), and from the Ministry of Health.

How was it developed?

The application was generated during the 2011 Election Hackathon by Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires the day before the election on October 23, 2011. The hackathon saw the participation of 30 volunteers with a variety of different backgrounds. Electoral Hack was developed as an open platform that could be improved over time. For the technology, we used Google Fusion Tables, Google Maps, and vector graphics libraries. Read more Hackathon as “case studies” at The Data Journalism Handbook

We opened the Buenos Aires chapter of Hacks/Hackers in April 2011. We hosted two initial meetups to publicize the idea of greater collaboration between journalists and software developers, with between 120 and 150 people at each event. For a third meeting we had a 30-hour hackathon with eight people at a digital journalism conference in the city of Rosario, 300 kilometers from Buenos Aires.

A recurring theme in these meetings was the desire to scrape large volumes of data from the web, and then to represent it visually. To help with this a project called was born, which helps users to extract data, and then to display it using maps and timelines. Not an easy task.

Why Mapa76? On March 24, 1976 there was a coup in Argentina, which lasted until 1983. In that period there were an estimated 30,000 disappeared people, thousands of deaths, and 500 children born in captivity appropriated for the military dictatorship. Over 30 years later, the number of people in Argentina convicted of crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship amounts to 262 people (September 2011). Currently there are 14 ongoing trials and 7 with definite starting dates. There are 802 people in various open court cases.

These prosecutions generate large volumes of data that are difficult for researchers, journalists, human rights organizations, judges, prosecutors, and others to process. Data is produced in a distributed manner and investigators often don’t take advantage of software tools to assist them with interpreting in. Ultimately this means that facts are often overlooked and hypotheses are often limited. Mapa76 is an investigative tool providing open access to this information for journalistic, legal, juridical, and historical purposes. Read more

Se presentó el libro The Data Journalism Handbook

Miembros de Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires participaron del histórico primer libro sobre periodismo de Datos. Esta es una referencia ineludible para comprender el cruce entre periodismo y tecnología. Pueden leer una versión completa aquí:

The Data Journalism Handbook is a free, open source reference book for anyone interested in the emerging field of data journalism.It was born at a 48 hour workshop at MozFest 2011 in London. It subsequently spilled over into an international, collaborative effort involving dozens of data journalism’s leading advocates and best practitioners – including from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, the Chicago Tribune, Deutsche Welle, the Guardian, the Financial Times, Helsingin Sanomat, La Nacion, the New York Times, ProPublica, the Washington Post, the Texas Tribune, Verdens Gang, Wales Online, Zeit Online and many others.