2022 Winner

Important Stories (IStories)

Country/area: Russia

Organisation: Important Stories

Organisation size: Small

Jury’s comments:

Alesya Marokhovskaya and her colleagues at Important Stories’ data department use advanced techniques and creative data strategies to turn numbers into incredibly important stories for the Russian public. They are selfless journalists who have inspired others, shared code, and helped with data processing for numerous local media outlets in the country. The outstanding and world-class data works authored by Alesya and her team at istories are developed by dedicated investigative journalists who work every day with a huge target on their back. Since selecting istories and Alesya as winners of the Sigma awards, the Kremlin has designated Important Stories as an “undesirable organization”, a categorization that means istories journalists can be sentenced to jail if they carry on with their journalism. The people sharing their data investigations can be fined or sentenced to jail, too. The youngest data department in Russian media has known pressure before, as it was designated last summer a “foreign agent” in Russia, but they kept their focus and went on in exposing abuses in the country’s judiciary, politics, problems in its housing allocation system as well as serious mismanagement and fraud in the healthcare and education sectors.

Cover letter:

Important Stories is a small (20 people) young Russian media that was founded by investigative journalists and data journalists. Data journalism is one of the most important areas for Important Stories. (you can switch the language of the site to English, we specially translate some of our important articles into English)

We have the youngest data department in Russia — only one year old, but it contains the most experienced russian journalists who have worked and collaborated with major independent Russian media (Novaya Gazeta, Medusa, RBC), participated in major international projects (Pandora Papers, Troika Landromat, FinCEN files, OpenLux and much more). All of us are young data-journalists (from 24 to 28 years old) with 2-5 years of experience in data journalism.

The peculiarity of our materials is that we are always looking for human stories, we see in the data not just numbers, but a person. We choose the most important and dangerous topics for research, which are practically not taken up by other Russian media. For example, we investigate the falsification of criminal cases by the police, environmental problems, health problems, fraud in State Duma elections and much more.

Also at each meeting we discuss which stories from around the world inspire us to do something similar for our country.

In addition, each of us knows at least one programming language to solve interesting technical problems in order to extract and analyze data even where it seems that it is impossible. We are always happy to share our skills with others, so we often make training videos “How we did it” based on our materials (you can check our Workshops). We are open to sharing data and code. That is, we not only try to make high-quality data materials, but also share our knowledge.

Our data team:
Alesya Marokhovskaya (editor and data-journalist)
Sonya Savina (data-journalist)
Polina Uzhvak (data-journalist)
Irina Dolinina (data-journalist)
Julia Alykova (data-journalist)
Katya Bonch-Osmolovskaya (data-journalist)

As the editor of our Data Department, I believe that not only the entire department can be awarded, but each of the authors can be separately marked as a Young Talent.

Besides, journalism in Russia is going through dark times. For our investigations and research, the Russian government has labeled IStories as a foreign agent, so we are working under the heaviest pressure. But we don’t want to stop and plan to continue making many important data stories.

Description of portfolio:

This is a story about how the police use the same fake witnesses in cases for drug crimes. IStories have downloaded 56,860 documents from the website of the Moscow City Court. Next step was challenging: we needed to extract names from the text. So we used Python for this task. Then, again, with the help of programming, we found names that are repeated in several cases. Then we read all the documents ourselves and collected evidence. We managed to find 142 such witnesses.

2. Using the scrollytelling technique IStories shows on charts and laws of mathematics why and how the results of the Duma elections in September 2021 could have been falsified and what role electronic voting played in those falsifications.

3. According to the International Labor Organization, there are between 500 and 1000 non-fatal accidents at production facilities and enterprises for one accident resulted in the death. In Russia there are only 22 non-fatal accidents per death. This is an indicator of incomplete data.

4. Russian readers don’t like to read about the climate, but we have found a convenient way to tell about it simply, clearly and on data. So for this story we used the scrollytelling technique. And it worked. It turned out to be one of the most widely read stories for IStories about ecology.

5. In this data story we discovered that 100 000 schoolchildren who are due to a school bus, are not provided with it. Not all families in Russian regions have a car, so kids have to walk to school along a highway, through forest, dangerous railroad crossing, off-road or snowdrifts. To find populated places situated far from schools we made a script in Python which matches a place with the closest school and shows the distance between them.

6. In autumn 2021, the Russian media began to write a lot about the fact that migrants commit many crimes in Russia. The Ministry of Internal Affairs said that this is deliberately done by media recognized as «foreign agents». Therefore, using programming, neural networks and open data, we checked which media actually incite hatred — it turned out that these are pro-state media. And we have refuted the widespread myths that migrants are dangerous criminals.

7. We examined all available government data on air pollution, environmental standards, federal programs and ecoactivists’ works. We found out  that  standards were loosened, the state monitoring of atmospheric pollution covers only a fifth of all Russian cities and does not track all emissions. The results of such measurement cannot be reliable.

8. We have proved that 20 million Russians may not be able to wait for an ambulance to arrive. We calculated the travel time from each settlement to the nearest medical institution. To build routes, we collected the coordinates of settlements and the nearest medical facilities. Then we use Python for each locality searches for the nearest medical facility and calculates the distance to it and the time on the road.

9. We analyzed data on queues for apartments in Russian regions and found that 54% of all Russian families have been waiting in queue for housing for ten or more years. We investigated how it can affect “children of the GULAG” and found that they could never wait to return from exile because of the queues.

10. Every year it loses 150-200 historical heritage objects. As a result over the past 10 years 2.5 thousand national attractions were lost. We analyzed the registers of historical heritage objects and found out that the regional authorities deprive architectural monuments of their protected status.

Project links: