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Oct. 27, 2015, 3:18 p.m.
Reporting & Production

NarcoData is a new collaboration that aims to track and visualize the drug cartels of Mexico

When the Mexican digital news site Animal Politico obtained previously classified government documents on drug cartels, it wanted to figure out the best way to unleash the “great potential” of the data.

NarcoData, a collaboration between Mexican digital news site Animal Politico and data journalism platform Poderopedia, launched Tuesday with a mission to shine light on organized crime and drug trafficking in Mexico.

“The Mexican state has failed in giving its citizens accurate, updated, and systematic information about the fight against organized crime,” said Dulce Ramos, editor-in-chief of Animal Politico and the general coordinator for NarcoData. “NarcoData wants to fill that empty space.”

The site examines four decades of data to explain how drug trafficking reached its current size and influence in the country. The idea for the project came about last year, when Animal Politico obtained, via the Mexican transparency act, a government chart outlining all of the criminal cells operating in the country. Instead of immediately publishing an article with the data, Animal Politico delved further to fill in the information that the document was missing.

Even a couple of months later, when the document went public and some legacy media outlets wrote articles about it and made infographics from it, “we remained sure that that document had great potential, and we didn’t want to waste it,” Ramos said. Instead, Animal Politico requested and obtained more documents and corroborated the data with information from books, magazines, and interviews.

NarcoData’s platform was designed by Poderopedia, the data visualization company founded by Chilean investigative journalist and former Nieman-Berkman fellow Miguel Paz. One of Poderopedia’s initial projects was to document a who’s who of the most powerful people in Chile. That mission has expanded to document the leaders of Venezuela and Colombia, and, more broadly, to find better ways of doing journalism using technology across Latin America.

Poderopedia and Animal Politico collaborated on the visualizations. “One of the goals was to learn, together, better ways to structure information and have team workflows that worked well over two time zones and different professional backgrounds,” Paz said. “It was a great partnership experience on every level.” Funding came from HacksLabs, Hivos, the Avina Foundation, and the International Center for Journalists.

NarcoData is one of a growing number of projects that seek to provide context and visualization around previously obscured or hard-to-collect data on issues like gun violence. Encuentros Mortales, for example, is a Spanish-language site tracking killings of undocumented immigrants; its sister site, Fatal Encounters, counts police-officer-involved homicides in the U.S, as does The Guardian’s The Counted.

Going forward, the NarcoData team plans to release several new visualizations, to delve further back in Mexico’s drug-trafficking history, and to track cartel activity year-by-year throughout President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term.

“I see NarcoData as a great building block for many new projects to come,” Paz said.

POSTED     Oct. 27, 2015, 3:18 p.m.
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