Colombia Reports has been busy trying to improve how we get our hands on accurate information and how we pass this on to our audience. Here’s a little update on how that’s going.
In order to appreciate the progress, it’s important to understand that what we fundamentally are doing is receive information, test the veracity of this information and then pass it onto our audience.
So, in order for us to improve the quality of our work it is essential we first increase our access to information, then improve the quality of verification of information, and last but not least find the most effective ways to pass this information on to you.
To do this, we have focused on three things
- Create a journalist information network
- Increase access to statistical information to corroborate or verify claims
- Introduce video, mapping and data journalism to make information more accessible
I will go through each of these projects to explain how we have been trying to improve the quality and reliability of our work.
Colombia Reports’ network
Journalist informant network
When in August last year riots broke out across Colombia as a result of growing unrest among the country’s rural population, it became evident how important it is to rely on journalists on the ground to accurately inform us on the situation outside the cities and in Colombia’s more secluded regions.
We already were able to count on pro-active readers living or working in the less obvious areas to inform us on what is going on around them, but we lacked access to local professionals.
The thing is that, when you’re in a city like Bogota or Medellin (where we are located), it is very easy to forget the reality in other parts of the country or get a distorted idea of what Colombia in its entirety is like.
The mainstream media in Colombia are mainly based in Bogota and too often have even less access to information from the ground than we do. They generally fail to adequately inform on what is happening outside the big cities.
To improve this we have since made agreements with journalists from local newspapers and radio stations to inform us on the situation on the ground in areas where we can’t go, either because there is no budget or because it’s too dangerous.
These local journalists — who I consider Colombia’s unsung heroes — are able to explain the ongoing situation in their region much more neutrally than any authority or local citizens’ committee.
As you can see on the map our network covers little more than half of Colombia’s national territory. We are still looking for improved information channels particularly coming from the Amazon region, the plains bordering Venezuela, the southwestern Nariño state and the Uraba region along the Panamanian border.
CITIZEN REPORTERS: Contact us
Colombia’s exports to US and China
Access to statistics
Do you remember when the US and Colombia signed a free trade agreement and those negotiating in Washington and Bogota said this would boost Colombia’s exports? Well, they were either wrong or they lied. Exports to the US dropped 15.5% in 2013. In fact, they dropped immediately after the FTA went into effect.
We know this because, unlike many countries in Latin America, Colombia’s national and regional authorities have in fact great public data systems that allow citizens to check numbers.
Ministries, the central bank, the national statistics agency, judicial authorities, governors offices, all offer freely available data that can be used to corroborate verbal claims. This way we can use official statistics to verify claims made by the government verbally.
Sometimes we need to push a little or pretend to be filing an Open Information Act request, but generally speaking the authorities we deal with are very cooperative. Not everyone though; We have spent more than half a year chasing the Medellin Mayor’s Office and the city’s police department to verify opposition claims that robberies last year went up almost 60% in our city. We haven’t been able to publish this claim because no authority has been willing to release statistics. In this case it will be necessary to actually sue the individual authority and have a judge force them to release the supposedly public information you have the right to know about because it affects your safety.
DATA GEEKS: Contact us
We just released the pilot episode of “Colombia Explained.” This series, we hope, will help explain the context of the different issues going on in Colombia in a more effective and less boring way.
The first episode we did, shown here on the right, intents to explain the FARC and its origins. We will try to cover a wide as possible range of subjects, including tourism and economy.
This project is still in its children’s shoes. We released the pilot only on YouTube and Facebook to allow our followers to give us feedback and tips on how to improve things. This has resulted in amazingly useful tips we are now incorporating in the production of our next video.
What we need to do now is make sure that we create a permanent workflow that allows us to incorporate video in our daily production schedule.
FILMERS: Contact us
In the pipeline
Colombia Reports’ ToDo List
We’re not done with what we’ve been having in mind. We’re currently preparing a crowdfunding campaign to obtain the funds necessary to write ebooks. We have already decided that the first book will be a detailed guide on investment in Colombia. With the adequate funds we can begin the investigations necessary to provide useful information for anyone with an interest in invest, be it in stocks, oil or mining, or to begin a small business.
We’re also looking into how we can make the raw data we have gathered for for example scholars or other type of investigators. We have only just begun looking into this, so please don’t expect news on this too soon.
Not related to journalism, but in my opinion an important service for our readership is the job board and the classifieds section we are currently building. This should finding a job or a second-hand couch a bit easier.
BRAINSTORMERS: Contact us
I have said this before, and I will say it again; We really need your feedback to improve. The majority of improvements we have made in the six years of our existence were actually the result of ideas brought to us by readers. We sincerely try to make a difference by keeping in constant contact with readers, scholars, students and other journalists, only to make sure we understand as well as possible what your need for information is.
LOVERS / HATERS: Contact us
I want to thank you on behalf of the newsroom for your continued support. We have literally received hundreds of emails and tweets and facebook messages, and even post cards, from people encouraging us to continue what we are doing. You have no idea how important this is and how this keeps us motivated. If you want to share your love, please don’t hold back. We can always use a little extra.