5 things I learned at #CodaBR, Brazil’s first data journalism conference


A group of data researchers, journalists and students gathered together on Saturday 21st in São Paulo for the #CodaBR – Conferência Brasileira de Jornalismo de Dados, Brazil’s first round of talks and workshops about data journalism.

The event was organized by the School of Data, an organization that offers data training around the world, with the support of the Brazilian Network Information Center (NIC.br), a nonprofit civil entity working on the .br domain in Brazil.

Over 10 hours of events, participants attended workshops on data cleaning with Python, mapping with GIS, statistical analysis, R programming for journalism, data scraping, plus talks on freedom of information, privacy and digital security.

Here are my five takeaways from the #CodaBR:

1) Journalists need to push for open data

Freedom of Information (Lei de Acesso à Informação in Portuguese) is relatively new in Brazil – the first law guaranteeing access to public information to citizens (and the press) has effectively been in place since 2012. The law aimed to bring more transparency by determining that any information of public interest should be made public. It also gave citizens and journalists the power to request any data to public bodies and get it free of charge.

Freedom of Information advocate Fabiano Angélico spoke about how transparency platforms could be accessed more by journalists in Brazil. In a time that newspapers in the country are picking up legal fights with local governments for accessing public data, journalists could go further by using the tools available to monitor power and hold decision makers into account.

Websites such as Dados Abertos, Portal da Transparência and Siga Brasil could work as sources for researching data on public bodies.

By adding pressure to public bodies to release information under the freedom of information law, reporters could push for more open data and transparency.  

For those interested in using freedom of information to request access to data, here is a practical guide by Abraji. 

2) There is a substitute for VLOOKUPs and it’s pretty neat

Everyone who has had to run a VLOOKUP has probably faced at some point a bunch of #N/A and #ERROR results on the spreadsheet. They’ve probably fell into despair when they couldn’t find a reason why the formula was broken. The good news is that apparently there is a formula that does the same as VLOOKUPs – with less drama.

A combination of the formulas Match and Index on Google Sheets work well as a substitute of the hateable VLOOKUP. The tip was given by Marco Tulio Pires, from the School of Data, at the data analysis workshop. The crowd couldn’t hide its excitement.

By using the two formulas, we managed to combine two spreadsheets, getting them to navigate through both sheets and bring us only the data we wanted to have in our analysis. Happiness defined.

A tutorial on how to combine Match and Index is here

3) R is a great tool for visualization, not only for data analysis

Previously, I had a blurred idea of what R was and always thought it was great for extracting and structuring data, plus analysing this information. But R is much, much more!

As David Opoku from the School of Data put it, “R is an environment where you can do all of your data work”. As data journalists we are used to analyse data in Excel and then work on visualizations on third-party platforms – whether it’s CartoDB, Tableau, or something else.

What surprised me is that there are great R packages out there to work with, and these packages allow you to produce powerful visualizations. One that we managed to get a sense of was the JavaScript library Leaflet, useful for interactive maps.

Here is a tutorial for the package on GitHub. 

4) Latin America is doing great in data journalism – we just don’t talk about it

There is great data journalism being done in Latin America – we just spend less time speaking about it. Projects such as TV Globo’s project on the killings by São Paulo police, as well as Ojo Publico’s investigation on political campaign funding in Peru, show the breadth of data narratives in the region.

Such projects show that journalists in Latin America are pushing themselves into telling stories backed by data rather than based on anecdotal evidence only.

Here is a list of projects highlighted at the conference:

  • A Farra do FIES – Estadão Dados uncovered how the government gave billions of reais to private Brazilian universities in order to increase the number of graduates in the country, but failed to do so
  • LGBT-phobia – a project for Huffington Post Brazil highlight the lack of public information on violence against LGBT people
  • Killings by the police – by analysing police records in São Paulo obtained through freedom of information, TV Globo found out that one in every four people murdered in the city was killed by the police
  • #FondosdePapel – an investigation by Ojo Publico in Peru uncovered a network of corruption in the political campaign funding system in the country
  • The real face of desnutrition – Plaza Publica’s investigation showed the real dimension of malnutrition of children in Guatemala and exposed the government’s inaccurate reports on the matter

5) Data journalists need to gather together more

There is a great sense of community in the tech world and it’s no different with the data journalism world. Both reporters interested in getting new skills and programmers willing to help newsrooms with their expertise can do more when they network.

Having the opportunity to share ideas and to understand each other’s’ capabilities is necessary to strengthen the community. Data journalists in Brazil are certainly looking forward to the next CodaBR, further developing the community and its potential.


2 thoughts on “5 things I learned at #CodaBR, Brazil’s first data journalism conference

  1. Keila, this is an amazing post and we, from School of Data Brazil, are really glad to receive such positive feedback. We’re making a post of our own about the event, but also wondering… Would it be ok if we translated your post to Portuguese, so that the part of our public that doesn’t speak English gets a participant’s perspective on the event?


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