Two guest posts on using data journalism techniques to investigate the Olympics

Corporate Olympic torchbearers exchange a 'torch kiss'

Investigating corporate Olympic torchbearers - analysing the data and working collaboratively led to this photo of a 'torch kiss' between two retail bosses

If I’ve been a little quiet on the blog recently, it’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time involved in an investigation into the Olympic torch relay over on Help Me Investigate the Olympics.

I’ve written two guest posts – for The Guardian’s Data Blog and The Telegraph’s new Olympics infographics and data blog – talking about some of the processes involved in that investigation. Here are the key points:

2012 Olympics investigation: the story behind the olympic sponsors:

I tried looking for mentions of Olympic sponsors: McDonalds, Coca Cola, and so on. Then I browsed through the stories to see if anything jumped out. The first to jump out was a torchbearer whose nomination story was, unusually, written in the first person and appeared to largely consist of being “engaged in the business of sport” alongside the rather vague hope that by doing so they might have “contributed to the development of sport in our country”.

This led me to focus my first efforts on the adidas dataset. And when I discovered that the same nomination story was actually being used by 7 of those torchbearers, I kept digging – the hunch being that, if they had all had the same story written for them, perhaps they shared something in common: for example, working for the company and being too busy to write their own story.

Torchbearer data is a journalist’s dream:

The data alone wasn’t always enough to tell these stories: in many cases, the work moved into identifying individuals and verifying their identity. We received anonymous tip-offs through the Help Me Investigate Olympics site which led to further stories. In one case, a photographer who was curious about one torchbearer found himself on the site and sent in his images.

This sent me off to find photographs of other corporate torchbearers – and this wonderful image of two executives exchanging a ‘torch kiss’ on a part of the route where a local boy had recently been told his torchbearer place was being withdrawn. The local newspaper and BBC radio station had failed to pick up on who they were.

As I found more stories in the data I started to get a feel for the clues that often led to stories: silence speaks volumes, for example; it was unusual for people to nominate themselves; while age and location were useful indicators.

I looked for data that had disappeared since I first looked – and indeed, one company’s executives had been removed since their stories had been published in the media. A local torchbearer would now have no idea who they were passing the torch on to.

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