Let the truck rest

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: South Korea

Publishing organisation: SISAIN


Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 2022-11-21

Language: Korean

Authors: Byun Jinkyung ,
Jeon Hyewon,
Lee Myungik ,
Kim Seungbum


Byun Jinkyung: Senior writer of SISAIN. Journalist writing articles on education and minority rights.

Jeon Hyewon: Junior writer of SISAIN. Journalist who writes articles on labor market structures and contradictions.

Lee Myungik : photojournalist of SISAIN. He is somewhere on the border between a photographer and a photojournalist.

Kim Seungbum : Director of VWL. Expert in urban and spatial data analysis and visualization

Project description:

‘Let the trucks rest’ is a data journalism project that uncovers the link between worker rights and civil safety in Korean society and the political dynamics surrounding them. We obtained DTG(Digital TachoGraph) data of 59,296 commercial cargo trucks for a month and analyzed the ultra-long working hours and ultra-long distance movement of Korean truckers. We also added on-site reportage to the data and conducted a survey of truckers. We suggested alternatives such as a safe fare system and a total driving time system, and pointed out the attitudes of the government, politicians, and public that should be preceded for this.

Impact reached:

Journalism reports dealing with workers’ rights, industrial accidents and strikes in Korea are almost very superficial and fragmentary. We destroyed that prototype through ‘Let the trucks rest’. Through objective data and dozens of interviews, we provide rich and three-dimensional information on ‘why truck drivers go on strike’, ‘why they are forced to overwork, overload, and speed driving’ and ‘how much it threatens the lives and safety of citizens’.

Our project has been praised by Korean society. In particular, Korean journalists were very interested in the process and meaning of our project. After the report went out, many newspaper, TV and radio reporters and producers invited us to tell more stories about data and coverage.
(KBS) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1GjuDwIbiA&t=2413s
(TBS) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ll1XhWrPx-Q&t=185s
(CBS) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNECZ198Ilg&t=331s

And the Journalists Association of Korea selected ‘Let the Truck Rest’ as one of the 387th ‘Reporter of the Month Awards’.

In particular, our project was widely spread to the public through SNS such as Facebook and Twitter.

Readers deeply sympathized with the fact that ‘the structure and contradiction of the freight transport market is a matter of the community related to the safety of all citizens, beyond the interests of some workers and users’. In Korean society, ‘safety’ is a common value that can be a clue to resolving conflicts. In the midst of extreme conflict in Korean society over truckers, we have succeeded in highlighting ‘safety’ as the core of the issue.

Techniques/technologies used:

We started working on 3TB of data that contains the monthly trajectories of 59,296 commercial cargo trucks in 1-second intervals. This data was then processed in two forms. First, we separated the status of the cargo truck into operation and stop and compressed it to 500MB. Second, we re-processed the movement on a national map with a 500m grid unit and compressed it to 16GB. The data on the first temporal dimension was represented on a tire-shaped graph, and the data on the second spatial dimension was represented on a map. These operations were performed in R.

The visualization results of 59,000 freight vehicles and other processed data in various formats were used as a basis for exploration and analysis, and the direction of the investigation was set and focused on specific areas and parts of the data that required further investigation and reporting.

The final results that were published in a web page format were re-created using JavaScript. The time chart represented like cargo truck tires was created using d3.js. The movement on the map was represented using deck.gl. We used scatterPlot layer, but we pre-processed the data so that the grids displayed according to the scroll are filtered, and thus, it was represented as if the cargo truck is moving.

The most important thing was the process of translating a month of unstable life into a tire-shaped pie chart. The pie chart of people with irregular lives looks like a worn-out tire, which seems dangerous. On the other hand, the pie chart of people who rest periodically looks like it can roll smoothly on the road.

Context about the project:

The jury needs to evaluate this project in consideration of the special working environment, political situation, and media landscape of Korean society. As is widely known around the world, Korean society is a society of tremendous hard work, overwork, and long-term work. Late-night work, non-stop work, overtime work are very common. The resulting deaths and injuries of workers and citizens are very common, too.

However, the efforts of the government and companies to solve these problems are not only very insufficient, but also have little will. The government and companies are very stingy in raising the minimum wage for workers, and when workers take collective action to claim their rights, they mobilize the police and courts to punish and threaten them. Moreover, most of the Korean media are on the side of these political powers and corporations.

Our project aimed to bring about meaningful change in this social context. On November 24, 2022, around the time the ‘Let the trucks rest’ project was issued, truck drivers belonging to the ‘Hwamul-yeondae(trucker’s labor union)’ went on strike. The current South Korean conservative government and President Yoon Seok-yeol strongly condemned the strike, comparing it to an “illegal strike,” “collective selfishness,” or “a disaster like the North Korean nuclear threat.” They imposed criminal punishment on the workers and demanded compensation for damages. The anti-labor press also poured out superficial and biased articles claiming that truck drivers went on strike “out of greed for money.” We gathered as many facts as possible to contain these unwarranted attacks. And it was effectively organized, arranged, and delivered to the readers.

The DTG data we analyzed contains information about vehicles in operation. This is essentially the driver’s personal information. State agencies are collecting this data and, in some cases, it can be misused as a means of monitoring and controlling workers. Considering this, we tried to ensure that the data recorded by individual workers could realistically represent their poor working environment while protecting personal information and privacy as much as possible.

The ‘Let the trucks rest’ project was prepared over a long period of time from April 2022. We received DTG data from the Korea Transportation Safety Authority and Han sangjin, the professor of Seoul National University, analyzed and processed it in an easy-to-understand way for readers, and spent 24 hours taking on a 25-ton truck to observe the actual freight transportation market. We circulated survey questions to numerous truckers and interviewed professors, labor union’s leaders, and government officials.

SISAIN, to which we belong, is a weekly magazine and a paper medium. However, in order to overcome the limitations of text journalism, a special web page was created(https://truck.sisain.co.kr). Our goal was to combine the strengths of data journalism and on-the-ground reporting to tell the story in the most effective and impactful way. Seungbum Kim, direcor of VWL(https://www.vw-lab.com), a great data visualization expert who has been collaborating with SISAIN since the 2021 ‘Beyond the School Zone’ project(https://beyondschoolzone.sisain.co.kr), provided great help in this process.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

The inspiration our project gave to other journalists in Korea can be confirmed through the comments in media magazines.

1. …”It is even more difficult to find articles written by directly covering truck drivers. There are only a handful of articles that have looked into why the safe fare system is important and why the borrowers went on strike, and most of them are lumped together in the demands and slogans of a “group” called the “cargo union.” It is against this background that SISAIN’s report, ‘Let the trucks rest’. In October, SISAIN accompanied the driver of the truck for 24 hours, revealing the reality of truck drivers’ “irregular labor” that statistics and reports cannot show. This project, which started regardless of the cargo union strike this spring, drew sympathy by revealing the structural contradictions of the cargo market in detail with data and on-site coverage, discussing solutions such as the safe fare system, and presenting responsibility issues such as costs to be shared by members of society. https://url.kr/o4mncf

2. …“I know that there were many journalists who tried to properly inform the reality of cargo workers even in the midst of malicious reports about the cargo workers. In particular, SISAIN’s special article “Let the trucks rest” (November 24) is a masterpiece that systematically and effectively delivers data on cargo labor through infographics and investigative reports and reports the reality of these workers in a living language.” https://url.kr/muql9p

We know that other countries have similar problems in the truck labor market and have data similar to Korea’s DTG. We believe that the ‘Let the trucks rest’ project is a meaningful first attempt at data journalism that can inspire journalists in other countries interested in labor, safety and human values, which are being pushed aside under the goal of efficiency.

Project links: