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On Monday, July 13, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and the UK- based Open Knowledge Foundation (OKF) launched Data Journalism PH 2015, an intensive three-day workshop aimed at boosting local capacity to create stories from raw data.
The launch event in Quezon City was attended by reporters and staff of various major Philippine news outlets and blogs.
Unreliable paper government
PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas underscored the storytelling potential of data-driven journalism, particularly in an age of social media and cloud computing—barring hurdles to "liberating" the data for public consumption.
"The potential for stories is there, but the data regime in the Philippines is based largely on hard copies. A lot of information is still on paper—it's unreliable, inaccessible, and not so open," she explained.
DBM Usec. Bon Moya
"A large portion of our population is tech-savvy. Unfortunately, a large portion of our government isn't," admitted Department of Budget Management (DBM) Usec. Bon Moya, who also heads the Open Data Task Force behind the government's open-data Data.gov.ph initiative.
According to independent site InternetLiveStats.com, in 2014 alone, the Philippines registered an Internet penetration rate of almost 40 percent, with 39.4 million Internet users out of a population of just over 100 million. The country follows behind its neighbors Malaysia and Vietnam, which boast penetration rates of 40 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
Moreover, it is hoped that greater public awareness of data journalism will enable greater transparency and accountability from government.
OKF's Sam Leon
"The Philippines has an incredible opportunity here. The move for freedom of information is a chance to leapfrog other countries in terms of transparency. But transparency is just a means to an end, which is accountability," said OKF data expert Sam Leon.
Stories behind numbers
But for that to happen, it is important to develop basic data skills among journalists, bloggers, and other public watchdogs—many of whom might feel intimidated by the need to work with numbers.
"Kailangan bawasan ang takot sa numero. It's not all about math. The challenge is to find the stories behind the numbers. Numbers are only significant if we can draw meaningful stories from them," said Commission on Audit (COA) Commissioner Heidi Mendoza, who also spoke at the event.
Wrapping up the launch event, World Bank economist Rogier van den Brink likened the Philippine situation in terms of pushing for public accountability to that of the early United States.
World Bank's Rogier van den Brink
"This has happened before," he said. "The present Philippine experience echoes that of the US in the 1800's, when 'muckraker' journalists formed coalitions with civil servants to expose problems in a government that was highly corrupt."
The intensive workshop runs from July 13 to July 15, covering the basics of how to acquire data (including the process of "scraping" data to convert it into machine-readable format); data analysis; and data visualization.
The public can view live updates by following the Twitter hashtag #datajourn15PH below:
— GMA News