How LA NACION built a unique platform to monitor the Covid-19 pandemic in real time
Organisation: LA NACION
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 25 Jan 2020
Credit: G. BOURET, F. FERNANDEZ BLANCO, P. LOSCRI, G. FERRO, M. TRIGO VIERA, C. ARAUJO, G. DE LA LLANA, N. BASES, N. RIVERA, P. ARELLANO, B. PALLARO, D. ARAMBILLET, F. RODRIGUEZ ALTUBE, G. ALONSO, J. COSTA , J. COPELLO, N. LOUZAU, F. COELHO, R. COLMAN
The news application website is fed with daily information that LA NACION team manually collects from the reports published by the Ministry of Health and from automatic processes of data that the National Government publishes as well on the national open data portal. The dedicated website presents one-a-kind analysis made with health specialists.
The development of the platform gave citizens and Health specialists a tool to monitor decisions that were made by the Government following the figures of our country. Since LA NACION´s newsroom actively reuse the data that was feeding the special website, inconsistencies in numbers were found and also reported by citizens. The articles published to make visible contradictions and problems in data promoted changes in the definition of coronavirus cases and adjustments and led to the release of a daily dataset containing detailed figures of what was happening in every corner of the country. The publication increased the use of data by activists, scientists, academics and specialists in diverse fields in Argentina. In this sense, the development of the platform led to the emergence of a group of watchdogs that are in permanent contact through a Telegram group and, as LA NACION, file for FOI requests to fix inconsistencies or problems in data.
As even data which is uploaded through automated processes contain errors, the team also deploy technical validations over the system to guarantee the quality of the information that LA NACION opens to the public. In this sense, our team used SNS (Simple Notifications Service), S3, CloudWatch, Lambdas, E2, Tableau, Vue.js and Big Query.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The most difficult part of the project is the constant monitoring that it requires due to problems in data reported by the Government in official documents and datasets. This situation involves permanent shifts of more than 8 people at different times to check that the quality of data that we receive is consistent with the historical information of cases and also within each specific dataset or PDF document. In fact, this is one of the reasons we established human and automatic validations at specific stages of processes. We also had to train ourselves to acquire the necessary skills in order to understand and analyse Health data related to the pandemic. This expertise took time but also requires flexibility to translate the complexity that arises from national figures into relevant stories for our readers.
What can others learn from this project?
One of the most important lessons learned is that interdisciplinary work and the expertise of journalists, developers, data scientists and activists is key to activate the demand of data in countries such as Argentina, where the Government open public information but not in a way to facilitate its consumption. In this regard, the coronavirus website shows the relevance of the power of collaboration. Alliances between our newsroom, university students and Health specialists are always stronger than a set of bureaucratic barriers that aim to discourage the visibility of the Coronavirus pandemic in Argentina. Furthermore, LA NACION, could not have developed a dashboard with more than 150 interactive visualizations without key specialists working in different disciplines.