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Image: Screenshot, InfoAmazonia

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Data Journalism Top 10: Armed Groups in the Amazon, US Gun Exports, and Myanmar’s Airstrikes

In this edition of GIJN’s Top 10 in Data Journalism, we feature a cross-border collaboration investigating different armed groups operating in the jungle border areas of the Amazon, where illegal gold mining, drug cultivation, and trafficking pose constant threats to local communities. Also this week, our selection — which features data journalism stories from July 24 to August 6 — highlights an investigation by The New York Times on air strikes in Myanmar, analysis of recent record-breaking heatwaves, and stories that use data to analyze the success of pop singer Taylor Swift and to assess the impact of the actors’ strike in the US.

Mapping the Amazon’s Underworld

Amazon Underworld is a collaborative cross-border investigation into the power dynamics playing out in the world’s largest rainforest. A team of 37 reporters from InfoAmazonia, LigaNoSilencio, and Armando.Info spent 15 months on field reporting and data analysis, using primary sources, satellite imagery, information requests, and official documents from Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia to map out the regional criminal ecosystem. They created a database and interactive map of the groups profiting from crime and instability in the region, where “porous and difficult to control borderlands are marked by an obscure convergence of guerrilla movements, criminal startups, and multinational organized crime.”

Myanmar Junta’s Terror Campaign

Since the 2021 coup, Myanmar’s junta has used airstrikes to try and counter the strength of the resistance. In this New York Times investigation, reporters combine photographs and videos, data, satellite images, and interviews to show that the military’s retaliation has become increasingly fierce and civilians are often on the receiving end of the violence. Using data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, the Times found there were nearly twice as many military airstrikes in April, May, and June as compared to the first three months of this year. In addition, air attacks have gone from an average of eight per month in 2021 to 30 in 2023.

Taylor Swift’s Musical Popularity

From news heavyweight Reuters, a data-led analysis of the music of the “unstoppable” pop star Taylor Swift. Reuters reporters used data from SeatGeek, Spotify, and Billboard to look at how resale tickets for Swift concerts average $1,651 (considerably higher than face value and the resale prices of fellow musicians), to chart how the singer has dominated the Billboard charts over time, and use Spotify metrics on “acousticness, emotion, and danceability” to analyze the greatest hits of an artist who has managed to produce “songs across the musical spectrum.”

Sexual Predators in Mexican Schools

After crunching the data from state education departments across Mexico about sexual assaults against children, reporters on this collaborative project from El Universal and Connectas found 3,534 alleged cases. Only half of them, 52%, were referred to the public prosecutors’ office, however. The team created a database to give a national overview of cases between 2012 and February of this year and provide the “most complete and up-to-date picture of sexual violence inside schools in Mexico.” Data was reported alongside family testimony, and one mother told them: “We trusted them, and gave them our greatest treasure.” In Spanish.

US Gun Exports Fuel Global Violence

A violent rampage by a former police officer at a nursery in Thailand last year killed 36 — the worst attack of its kind in the country’s history. The weapon used, though, was made in the US, part of “a growing number of semiautomatic handguns and rifles exported by American gunmakers and linked to violent crimes,” according to this deep dive by Bloomberg. Reporters analyzed data from two federal agencies to piece together the volume, value, and foreign destinations of US gunmakers’ exports. Their analysis shows how Thailand has surged to the top of the list of countries buying US semiautomatic firearms, thanks to a controversial program that allows police officers and officials to buy discounted weapons for private use.

30-Plus Years of US Labor Strikes

According to a report by The Washington Post, an ongoing strike by the US Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) involving approximately 160,000 actors is the largest work stoppage in the country in 25 years. Graphics reporter Alyssa Fowers charted data on US labor strikes across industries since 1990 to analyze the trends.

German Weather Dashboard

The world experienced the hottest month on record in July 2023. German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung looked at Germany’s historical weather data to chart the average temperature and rainfall in the month of July from 1880 to 2023. It also created an interactive tool for users in Germany to compare the current weather in their location with previous years and other areas within the country.

Taipei’s Heat History

In another look at climate extremes, Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan, is heating up fast. CommonWealth Magazine compared Taipei’s temperature rise with the increase in temperatures of other Asian capitals over the past century. It found that Taipei’s speedy rate of temperature increase was only second to Beijing. The economic news media compiled and extrapolated data from microclimate measuring stations to identify five areas in the Taipei Basin that are contributing to the intense heat. Read the piece in English and Mandarin.

Desertification of an Egyptian Oasis

Siwa Oasis, an urban oasis in Egypt, is suffering from many environmental issues. Unsustainable agricultural practices have resulted in a large proportion of cultivated areas becoming waterlogged and salinized, which has led to a deterioriation in land productivity. Using satellite imagery, ARIJ Network mapped and tracked the degradation of the oasis over three decades. In Arabic.

Russia’s Secret Oil Export Routes

Since the European Union and G7 countries imposed sanctions and a price cap on Russian oil, a shadow fleet of aging and clandestine tankers has emerged to export Russian oil, with its owners hidden behind shell companies. Using maritime data, French daily Le Monde tracked the routes of 10 such oil ships and found a new trading route linking Russia to Asia, in particular India.

GIJN’s Top 10 in Data Journalism list is curated weekly. Send your suggestions to us.


Laura Dixon GIJN Associate EditorLaura Dixon is an associate editor at GIJN and a freelance journalist from the UK. She has reported from Colombia, the US, and Mexico, and her work has been published by The Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. She has received fellowships from the IWMF and the Pulitzer Center.

 

Eunice Au is GIJN’s global team manager based in Budapest, Hungary. Previously, she was a correspondent for Singapore’s The Straits Times , and a journalist at Malaysia’s New Straits Times. She has also written for The Sun , Malaysian Today, and Madam Chair.

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