When I think of data, I tend to think of large sets of numbers and huge databases that the ordinary person cannot easily get their hands on. However, after doing some digging around the web, I was amazed to find the number of public records that are available to anyone. Whether you are a journalist or not, most of this information can be used to learn more about your city and area.
And that’s where citizen journalists come into the picture. Simple charts and statistics are allowing citizen journos to produce meaningful and newsworthy stories.
In fact, this is the goal of a group called Friends of Januária in Brazil. The project received grants and help through other organizations, such as Rising Voices, Global Voices Online, and Article 19. Through this collaboration, their goal is give citizen a crash course into journalism and teach them the basic techniques and budget monitoring.
The town Januária is politically corrupt and not much trust is placed into the local officials. As we see sometimes here in West Virginia, not much media attention is focused on rural areas. In Brazil, small towns like Januária hardly ever make headlines. But citizen journalists can change this. With the Internet, citizens are able to get their hands on budget data within the city and information that could help them bring a change to the small town.
For example, Soraia Amorim, a young citizen journalist, put her access to data into good use. She wrote a story about the number of doctors listed on the city payroll according to the Federal Government data. She was able to access health data and found that the information listed did not correspond to the current situation. The numbers indicated that there were more doctors in the town than there really was. Not only did Amorim do investigative work, but she was able to uncover a problem and show the inconsistencies in her story.
Other citizen journalists involved in the program were also able to take advantage of databases to find other problems and issues that needed to be addressed in the city.
This goes to show that data can be useful to anyone, of any career. Citizen journalists are able to take the smallest pieces of data and turn those numbers into news. You do not have to work for a large media organization to use data. Anyone with a little bit of time, effort, and drive can inform the public through the use of data.