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How CORRECTIV Supports Local Data Journalism in Europe: Q&A with Editor-in-Chief Olaya Argüeso

The CORRECTIV.Europe project, founded by German investigative media outlet CORRECTIV, aims to help local journalists publish data stories when they wouldn’t otherwise have the time or money to do it. For the Online Journalism Blog, Cristina Puerta speaks to the project’s editor-in-chief, Olaya Argüeso.

“[CORRECTIV.Europe] is about giving the European citizens a feeling that they are on the same boat together,” editor-in-chief Olaya Argüeso explains.

Local journalism, she says, has been “neglected,” and it is now, when people suffer the consequences of global phenomena — for example, climate change because of flooding and droughts where they live — that they realize how important local journalism is.

News avoidance is at an all-time high, and while Argüeso feels breaking global problems down to a local level cannot be the solution, it can, she says, show citizens what they can do about those problems.

“You can show people what is happening to them where they live,” she adds. “They also realize what they can do about it… when you give them information that they can handle.”

By making it a cross-border investigation, the network can acknowledge that their problems are common across other countries in the continent. That is the idea behind CORRECTIV.Europe.

Two Requirements for a Networked Project

Olaya Argüeso, CORRECTIV editor-in-chief. Image: Screenshot, X

The work-in-progress network doesn’t rule out any topic, but its cross-border data stories must meet two requirements: the data has to be based on a European topic; and the data has to be able to be broken down locally — to have a kind of “granularity.”

“Data journalism stories, when they are done, are really easy to implement on the local level,” Argüeso explains

However, building CORRECTIV.Europe is not exempt from challenges. The main team is based in Germany, but the network of journalists is spread across the continent, working for their own media outlets. So one of the challenges is the language barrier.

“We’re using English because it is the standard and more or less everyone can speak English. But it’s also true that you cannot expect everyone in local journalism to speak English at a proficient level,” she says.

A second issue is engaging local journalists in a cross-border network. According to Argüeso, international cross-border journalism is a small bubble in which everyone knows each other. National media outlets have collaborated on big stories, such as the Pandora Papers, and they are part of international investigative consortiums and organizations where it is easy to collaborate across borders.

However, she adds: “There is no such a thing at the local level.”

Human Relationships

Similarly to the BBC Data Unit or Bureau Local in the UK, CORRECTIV.Europe is setting up a local network across the European continent, and sharing with them data stories that, in the words of the editor-in-chief: “They cannot afford to do themselves because they don’t have the resources.

“They don’t have data journalism skills in their newsrooms. They don’t have the time to do it. They cannot afford to invest time in researching a topic without knowing if that’s actually going to be a topic in the end.”

She adds: “They are so focused on their daily work that they think cross-border is something that doesn’t belong to local journalism. So, you really have to convince them. You have to explain why a cross-border collaboration is interesting for local journalists, being very clear that it doesn’t mean extra work for them — that we’re really taking up all the extra work. You come up with this idea that you think is amazing, but you really have to build up this trust. That’s all human relations. So, you really need to invest a lot of time creating this trust.”

Image: Screenshot, CORRECTIV.Europe

Tips for Those Starting Out in Data Journalism

When asked about some tips for early career journalists getting started with data, Argüeso says: “Start with something that you can handle. Don’t try to be very ambitious at the beginning. I think this is the kind of mistake that we all make: you see so many possibilities and then you find yourself in a mess because it’s so ambitious that it cannot really be done by just a person. So, start with things that you can handle and then just build up.”

She also recommends using projects to learn new skills. “If you want to teach yourself coding, for instance, look for a project where you have a personal interest and that needs code. Then you have the motivation to take it up.

“If you just say, ‘I’m going to learn coding for the sake of it, and then I’m going to look for a project where I need that, where I can use my skills.’ you will lack the motivation.I think the other way around works much better.”

How Does CORRECTIV.Europe Work?

Their first investigation [on industrial air pollution] served to test the concept of what they wanted to offer.

“We identify a topic, we investigate the topic, look for the data, analyze the data, try to understand the topic, find experts and then we prepare the data in spreadsheets that are really, really easy to use, even if you don’t know how to use a spreadsheet,” she explains.

Then: “We write what we call a ‘recipe’ in German.” This is a five- to seven-page document containing an explanation of why the topic is relevant, what kinds of stories they can find, what things they have to be careful about, and what needs to be found in the data. “The idea behind it is: if you would only have 24 hours to do a story, this is what you could do with the data and with our instructions.”

CORRECTIV.Europe lets reporters know what are they working on and which stories are being investigated, so the network knows when a new story is going to come up. But in the end, Argüeso says, they expect the topics to come “not top-down but bottom-up,” with the partners of the network suggesting topics of interest.

For now, though, they needed to start with something, so it was the main team that proposed the topic.

The next six months appear to be one of the busiest times for the network, with their next investigation focused on the European elections, and also working on expanding and building the network of European local media outlets that will become members of CORRECTIV.Europe.

This post was originally published on the Online Journalism Blog and has been lightly edited and is reprinted here with permission.

Cristina Puerta is a freelance data journalist based in London, UK. Previously, she worked as a content editor for Project Oasis (Sembra Media), and covered the rights of European citizens during and after Brexit for She started as a culture journalist intern at El Diario del AltoAragón (Spain).

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