The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) has launched an advanced data tool to help journalists research about politicians and companies, reports Beatriz Farrugia.
The platform, Cruza Grafos (“Crossing Graphs”), was created by a partnership between Brasil.io and the Google News Initiative.
Cruza Grafos (registration required) is an online visual interface where journalists can research political candidates, and relate candidates to companies and entities with an official registration number in Brazil.
The tool allows journalists to work with huge datasets without any coding.
According to Reinaldo Chaves, Abraji’s project coordinator, many journalists do not know how to code or even how to open a spreadsheet — a situation that makes some investigative projects impossible to happen.
“We hope the Cruza Grafos makes this kind of investigation easier and democratizes access to huge datasets.”
The idea came three years ago from the programmer and transparency activist Álvaro Justen, known as Turicas.
Having a background in elections datasets, Turicas realised that crossing candidate databases with companies’ records could generate relevant information in terms of transparency, accountability and corruption.
Cruza Grafos has been launched with 29.4 million registers — 20 million people and 9 companies. The main sources are the national revenue service and the Superior Electoral Court.
Using graph theory to show relationships
The visual tool uses a mathematical concept, graph theory, which models pairwise relations between objects. The platform’s idea is to combine information from different datasets, in a range of levels, and present the connections between candidates and companies.
“We started the project showing data about a candidate ,” Turicas tells the Online Journalism Blog. “Then, we inputted information about a company Y, which has the candidate X as a business associate. Finally, we went to another level, adding data about the all partners of this company Y and so on.”
According to Chaves, “graph theory is not new. Actually, it has been used for decades by data science and Information technology.
“But it is new for journalism. And we really need to combine information to find some stories.”
The databases available on Cruza Grafos are related to the 2018 and 2020 Brazilian elections, but Abraji and Brasil.Io’s intention is to progressively expand the data input.
Previously on OJB: A journalist’s introduction to network analysis
Turicas says the aim is to input databases from all the elections that have occurred in Brazil, on both politicians and their companies.
They also want to add aircraft registration and data related to all companies that bid for a governamental contract.
“After that, we are going to work on improvements for the platform.”
A free course on how to do network analysis — and open source code
For the launch, Abraji organised an online course about Cruza Grafos focused on “Journalism, COVID-19 and corruption”.
Since the debut, more than 400 professionals have created an account on the platform, which is also attracting lawyers and attorneys.
In the future Abraji also plans to find partnerships abroad to share international datasets.
“We have been talking to people in Europe, Latin America and North America,” Chaves said. “We know that some databases can be transnational.”
“At Abraji we [believe in the ethos] of Open Source projects. Soon, the code for Cruza Grafos will be on Github so other people, in other countries, can use it and build local solutions.”
Beatriz is a student on the MA in Data Journalism at Birmingham City University.