Leading German and Latin American journalists got together for a DW Akademie Media Dialogue held in Buenos Aires. The focus was on data journalism - a buzz word since the WikiLeaks releases in 2010.
They call themselves nerds, hackers or data ninjas and they work passionately with huge quantities of data and complex visuals.
And they have more in common with traditional journalists than you might think: they love to tell the story.
Data journalists do more than just collect and analyze data. Their true art lies in interpreting the data and turning it into compelling stories relevant to their readers, listeners, viewers or users. While they at times work with data released to editorial desks by whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, they work more frequently with freely accessible data banks.
Several democratic states have since passed freedom of information laws to regulate access to state information but few journalists can deal with these large amounts of data. This then becomes a question of having too much information rather than having too little.
Gustavo Faleiros from Brazil is a geojournalist. He's a fellow with the ICFJ Knight International Journalism fellowship and was invited by DW Akademie and Germany's Foreign Office to present his project "InfoAmazonia" at the Buenos Aires Media Dialogue. Using satellite pictures and interactive maps he and his team of developers and journalists constantly monitor rainforest destruction in nine Amazon states. Users, for example, learn that countless small areas - instead of vast expanses - are now being deforested in order to conceal the real extent of deforestation.
Faleiros gathers all information from freely accessible data banks. "This is not just about telling stories by filtering data records," he said. "We also want to develop new ways for people to work with complex data on their own."
New ways to research
In a similar vein Julius Tröger, an editor with Germany's Berliner Morgenpost newspaper, is enabling individuals to create a personal daily news source. With his online project "Flugrouten-Radar" users can click on all daily flights over Berlin and learn more about aircraft noise and environmental pollution in their own neighborhoods.
In terms of data journalism complementing traditional journalistic research, Stefan Plöchinger, editor-in-chief of Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung online edition, presented the striking "Geheimer Krieg" ("Secret War") research project. Together with the public broadcaster NDR, the project combines various presentation formats so that users can use a print, TV, online or book version.
"Data journalism is certainly an important addition," agreed Christina Elmer, a science and data journalist with Spiegel Online, "but it does not replace fundamental journalistic research methods."
Sharing a newsroom
Although cooperation between IT experts and journalists is still in its early stages in many editorial offices, the visit to the Argentinian daily La Nación was especially interesting for the German participants. Here data experts and editors share an open-space newsroom, with graphic artists who visualize the data sitting nearby. La Nación has developed an excellent international reputation in areas such as corruption. "We need more nerds in the newsrooms!" exclaimed La Nación's Florencia Coelho. The Media Dialogue participants agreed.
DW Akademie's Argentina Media Dialogue on data journalism is to continue in 2014 and is supported by Germany’s Foreign Office.