2021 Shortlist

Covid-19 at Agence France-Presse: local and global datajournalism

Country/area: France

Organisation: Agence France-Presse

Organisation size: Big

Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a leading global news agency providing fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the events shaping our world, drawing from a newsgathering network across 151 countries. AFP publishes stories, videos, photos and graphics in French, English, Arabic, Portuguese, Spanish, and German.

In 2014, AFP’s graphics department was joined by a team of data journalists and developers. Their mission was to create new interactive projects, databases and semi-automated content. 

The team carried out several large projects, including a visual and interactive project about victims of violence in Rio’s favelas, and a data journalism project about femicides in France. It has also created tools for the newsroom. The nine-member team (four data journalists, two web designers, one database designer and two developers) is now joined every year by three students as part of a fellowship program involving young developers and data journalists. 

2020 marked a big step forward for the data team as its work has become the centerpiece of our Covid-19 operations. The team set up three databases, including a general Covid-19 database and a more specific Covid Trends database to cover the path of the pandemic, which we are submitting for your consideration. 

As other news organizations, the agency launched its most ambitious global data journalism project to cover the Covid-19 crisis. This has created a new data culture within the newsroom.

By submitting this collective effort to the Sigma Awards we hope to encourage our newsroom to further this effort. We do believe data journalism is crucial for the people’s right to know and thrives when it involves the kind of interactions we saw, involving “on the ground journalists” collecting the data and a specialized team able to support them and bring to light new stories. 

Description of portfolio:

We are submitting for your consideration our database of Covid cases and deaths, a second database created to follow Covid-19 Trends and the automated content they have generated, including our Data-driven videos; We are also presenting our lockdowns database, a portfolio of explicative datavizualisations and our public interactive graphics. The Covid-19 database was created on February 24 as our answer to a pressing question: what sources should we use ? We realized several bureaus were using different sources and databases. We also knwe we would not properly fulfil our mission as a major international news agency if we had to rely on other organizations databases: how would we vet the quality of the data ? How could we avoid missing major thresholds, updates, alerts ? Four data journalists, two web designers and one database specialist were appointed “guardians” of the base. They vetted the data and cleaned the base, calling bureaus and correcting mistakes when discrepancies were found. The main problem we face is how labour-intensive the database is to be able to m Our main base only relies on direct official sources, with one exception: for the United States, we use Johns Hopkins University tallies and cross-check them with the data provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In Afghanistan, we use WHO data as there is no official data on a daily basis. We have created a second database to cover weekly trends and other long term data. Semi-automated text is generated at least once a day. Automated graphics are also created with a script editor which uses cases and deaths data and creates a ranking of worst-affected countries. Thanks to our Covid-19 databases AFP has been a reliable source for hundreds of media clients. Our tallies, threshold alerts and regional angles have made headlines across the world. We have produced over 16,000 Covid-related graphics delivered via satellite, FTP and our AFP.com platform. The number of downloads, which only reflects part of the metrics, shows high levels of use. 10, 496 graphics were downloaded in Spanish; 8,172 in English; 1,624 in French, 1,077 in German, 1,531 in Arabic and 202 in Portuguese from January 2020 to January 2021. Our AFP Interactive team also designed Data-driven videos (DDV), connected to the Covid database, which could generate 10 to 15 seconds videos featuring the number of cases and deaths for any given country, region or for the world. DDVs can be created by video or social media editors in just three clicks, without motion design or data skills. We built the tool using some of the technology developed with a Google DNI grant. In previous versions of the DDV, we created short videos for tweets and location. Covid-19 data was made available to the public via our AFP Interactive page in five languages (French, Spanish, English, German, Italian). The embeddable version of this interactive graphic has been viewed 96 million times since March 2020. In March and April, our documentation department also maintained a database to count the number of people under lockdown. To measure how the world had come to a halt we used four variables: mandatory lockdowns, curfews, quarantines, and “people invited to stay at home”. To calculate the percentage of people invited or forced to stay at home, we used UN population projections for 2020. Our lockdown tallies made headlines in many countries. Our media clients could rely on us for timely data updates and therefore spend more time focusing on more specialized issues. We believe no other international news organization provided such a massive amount of Covid data texts, graphics and data-driven videos in six

Project links: