What has your MEP been doing for the last five years?
Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)
Organisation: The Irish Times, University College Dublin
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 21/05/2019
Credit: Nora-Ide McAuliffe
In the run up to the European Parliament elections in May 2019, this project highlighted the “performance” of Irish members of the European Parliament (MEPs) under eight different areas using data collected by the European Parliament from 2014-2019 and made available on their website under each MEP’s profile.
The impact of this project highlighted to readers how active their MEP had been in the past five years under areas such as attendance, contributions to plenary debates, their work as rapporteur or shadow rapporteurs on reports and opinions, the number of motions for resolution put forward etc. While the article did not paint a whole picture of all of the MEPs activities during their tenure, it did give readers an understanding of how their MEP performed in certain areas compared to other Irish MEPs from their constituency or outside of it. The article was published three days before the European election while candidates were still canvassing for support.
I primarily used Microsoft Word, Google Sheets, ParseHub and Datawrapper. As the data was collected by the European Parliament and made available on its website under each MEP, in some cases it was possible to copy and past the information into Google Sheets and count up for example, oral questions or motions for resolution and get the number for each MEP in this way. To ascertain the attendance of each MEP, I clicked into each session of the parliament from 2014-2019 (http://www.europarl.europa.eu/plenary/en/minutes.html#sidesForm), pasted each session into a Word Document, searched each MEPs name which gave me the number of times each MEPs name appeared and then went through entry to check if they had been marked as absent or present. ParseHub was used in particular to ascertain the number of Written Explanation of Vote by each MEP due to the sheer number of explanations provided and the format it was provided in by the European Parliament which was not conducive to copying and pasting into a Google Spreadsheet due to the way it was presented on the website.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Compiling the database was quite time consuming due to the amount of copying and pasting required, particularly in capturing the attendance data which involved individually clicking into each parliamentary session over five years and copying and pasting the information into the Word Document. Figuring out the exact set of commands in order for ParseHub to collect the information I wanted was also quite challenging as it took me a while and numerous readings of explainers and YouTube videos before I found the right combination that I needed. I believe this project should be selected as it used readily available data in an interesting and fresh way to show readers something that they otherwise would not have known about unless they went through each of the MEPs profile on the European website themselves and had days to spare doing so. Further, for those MEPs seeking re-election, it gave voters something other than the candidates’ manifesto to consider as they could see they could easily see the candidates’ record in certain key areas, though the data presented.
What can others learn from this project?
Other journalists can learn that sometimes a combination of simple tools such as Google Spreadsheets and Microsoft Word can be used effectively to navigate through data.