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Átló's map of protests and rallies in Hungary.



Átló: Taking on Corruption in Hungary with Data Journalism

Átló’s map of protests and rallies in Hungary.

In Hungary, nonprofit news site Átlátszó has hired a full-time data team to create a wide range of data visualizations and data-driven stories. Amanda Loviza spoke to data journalist Attila Bátorfy about his plans to have Átló — Átlátszó’s data project — raise the quality of data journalism in Hungary.

Átlátszó was created in 2011 as Hungary’s first crowdfunded independent investigative news site, with a goal of holding the powerful accountable. It has been a member of the Global Investigative Journalism Network since 2012.

Bátorfy joined the site two-and-a-half years ago. It was not long before he told editor-in-chief Tamás Bodoky that they needed a whole separate team to produce higher-quality data projects.

“I’m not enough. Simply, I’m not enough,” Bátorfy told him.

It took two years and raising 60,000 euros in funding, but the one-year pilot of Átló began in November 2018, with Bátorfy as head of the team along with one full-time developer, one full-time graphic designer and a small network of freelancers to help with scraping, data collection and organization.

Átló created interactive maps of new land ownership after 2014 in Hungary.

Expanding the Use of Data in Hungary

The majority of the media industry in Hungary is owned and controlled by pro-government oligarchs. Átlátszó’s data journalism projects have focused on exposing corruption within the government.

“The space for independent journalism is shrinking, step by step, in Hungary,” Bátorfy said.

Bátorfy and other Átlátszó journalists spend time traveling the country and educating journalists about accessing public information, using mobile tools and hunting fake news.

But with Átló, Bátorfy seeks to reach new audiences with a wider range of data journalism.

In its first few weeks, Átló published visually-driven stories about the history of cemeteries and burials in Budapest, and compared the size of Hungarian cities from 1780 to 2018.

Bátorfy hopes to popularize “digital humanities” in Hungary, helping the public explore history, science and cultural studies through data projects.

Átló’s visualization of state advertising expenditures.

Open Data and Transparency

Átlátszó’s biggest data story was published in late September, exploring the use of a private jet and a luxury yacht by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and others in the Hungarian political elite. At the bottom of the page, readers found a list of each data source used for the investigation.

The data behind any story must always be shared, Bátorfy said. Listen to him discuss importance of data transparency:

“Obviously, we can make mistakes, and for me, it’s important to be accountable and transparent as journalists,” Bátorfy said.

Átló (and Átlátszó) publishes all of its data and documents online, and they note any changes made to a data set. If a mistake has been made, Bátorfy said he would prefer someone find it and point it out immediately.

Building a Foundation

From not knowing what data journalism was eight or nine years ago, Bátorfy guesses that he must now have the largest library of data journalism books in Hungary.

Hungary is far behind the standards of international data journalism, Bátorfy said, but he wants to see Átló produce work in line with major international publications.

When forming Átló, Bátorfy said the two biggest challenges were finding the financial backing and finding the right people.

It’s one thing to be a good graphic designer or a good developer, he said, but one must have a strong grasp of the data itself in order to produce meaningful data visualizations. Aesthetically beautiful visualizations that are meaningful to the audience are key.

One of Átlátszó’s data projects tracked students unions’ payments.

Going Mobile With Dataviz

Having an audience that is 80% mobile has shifted Bátorfy’s views on what makes a successful data visualization. Complex data visualizations simply don’t work on a mobile phone, he said.

“My thinking changed, because I had to find out how to make data visualization accessible for people [on] mobile phones,” he said.

When building the Átló team, Bátorfy decided to focus on finding a graphic designer who could make good static images and a developer who could make simple, high-quality websites for different projects.

“We know the trends, obviously, and we know that the basic standard would be that we are doing coding in D3 or Processing or Python, but it simply doesn’t work on mobile phones,” he said.

Bátorfy said that learning which tools work best for their audience is a step-by-step process. But he hopes that after Átló’s one-year pilot program, they will obtain more funding and be able to keep pursuing their goals of growing data journalism in Hungary.

This post originally appeared on the Online Journalism Blog and is reproduced here with permission.

Amanda Loviza is a journalist currently working on her master’s degree in multiplatform and mobile journalism at Birmingham City University. She writes for Birmingham Eastside and previously worked as a reporter for the Times Herald-Record in New York.

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