“Drug crime is internationalizing, getting more violent and involving billions of euros. That money is taking hold of our society. It is one of the major problems of our time”, says criminologist Henk Ferwerda.
Governments are allocating funds to tackle subversive crime. But it is a problem that remains largely invisible. For example, drug money is laundered through shady shops or by recruiting vulnerable youths at schools.
RTL Nieuws created The Underworld Map to address a problem most people do not see. Journalists developed a model to measure the vulnerability of residents, businesses and municipalities, thus making the invisible visible.
Our research was hot news for over a week. We produced several online articles based on the outcomes and specific phenomena we found. Most of these also led to items on television, even on prime time for a public of over one million viewers. Our articles and maps online have been read and viewed by more than 750,000 visitors.
Our investigation led to several questions from members of the House of Representatives, who wanted to know how Minister of Justice and Security Dilan Yesilgöz will tackle the problems outlined earlier. The minister herself also responded to the inquiry and stated that the investigation makes it clear that criminal subversion takes place all over the country and is often closer to home than many people think.
In addition, many experts and policy makers from Dutch provinces and municipalities have asked us to work with the results on a local level. Many local and regional journalists have also used our research to write regionally specific articles based on the outcomes.
We also recieved lots of compliments from other media outlets. A colleague on LinkedIn wrote that investigative journalism ‘has been taken to a higher level’ thanks to our research.
We used common tools like Excel and R to collect, merge and clean the data. During our research (which took about six months), we frequently spoke to experts in the field to verify data sources and check whether the data were usable. The most difficult part of the research was creating a model that measured something that had never been measured before, and is often invisible and elusive. Therefore, our contact with experts in criminology as well as data science was extremely important. Thanks to their help, we have been able to develop an innovative, tailor-made method.
Context about the project:
With the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp around the corner, the Netherlands are one of the largest drug transit countries in the world. Because of the excellent infrastructure and moderately lenient drug policy, internationally operating drug criminals know where to go. The concerns about this development are great, especially when it comes to the extent in which this affects Dutch society. But this is a problem that does not only occur in the Netherlands and does not stop at the border. Our research can therefore be seen as a starting point for similar analyses in other countries dealing with subversive crime.
We have tried to translate most of the texts from Dutch to English as best as possible. However, that is not our native language and the language in which we communicate with our audience. We ask the jury to take this into account. We have published many more stories associated with The Underworld Map (in Dutch: Onderwereldkaart). At the fourth attached link they are accessible in ‘Google Translate English’.
What can other journalists learn from this project?
The methodology we developed shows that it is possible to make invisible phenomena visible. This offers investigative data journalists a new way of conducting research. It is also an example of how to combine existing data into a smart model that reveals new information.