Interview| Using data to transform journalism


Open Data in Europe and Asia | Interview with Pınar Dağ, co-founder of the first Data Driven Media Organisation, Dağ Medya and the first Data Driven Journalism Training Portal Veri Gazeteciliği

  1. Why did you start working with data?

Four years ago I was doing some research for a report and I found myself with a bunch of raw data. I wanted to make use of it for journalistic purposes, however I wasn’t sure how to go about incorporating it into what I was doing. By chance It was around the same time I had won a place on a Google-funded workshop and data journalism camp, implemented by the University of Central Lancashire MADE (Media And Digital Enterprise) Project. Attending this camp helped me to use and understand more effectively both data and data journalism together, and it also inspired me to import all this knowledge, localising it for Turkey and the Turkish media, and for my own digital outlet.

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Data helps to make reports more transparent and also helps you to creat trust between you and readers amid the media ‘misinformation’ that we suffer from today. One of the other reasons why I was inspired to start working with data is that I realised I could reach lots of databases belonging to both governments and institutions world wide.  It is my opinion that being a data-driven journalist means being able to use data literacy to make you a better journalist,  researcher or instructor in press world  today. So these are some of the reasons I decided to start working regularly with data.


  1. Tell us of one accomplishment from your work that you are particularly proud of.

There is an ongoing project titled,”Open Database of Deceased Workers in Turkey”, which is on the Data Journalism 2015 finalist list right now as part of the ‘open data’ category. We spent almost 6 months on the project last year and wrote many features around it, enabling journalists to have access to actual open data on daily basis. I am really proud of my team and how well they worked on the project.

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The tragic mining accident that occurred in Soma, Turkey was the reason we begun the database as it proved extremely difficult to document the working conditions of employees involved in the disaster. There were discrepancies with the number of unionised workers, and an inability to provide sufficiently transparent data to account for the deaths of workers over previous decades. What was available was disorganised and lacking in detail to be able to pinpoint project data more effectively.

This open database that we have produced works in a systematic way, providing visibility of the information gathered and giving much deserved recognition to the numbers of victims and the poor working conditions that they endured. It offers information in a way that may be filtered, added to and developed in the future, following in an orderly structure so that the public may view this open source data in a informative way.

The project includes embeddable maps, graphs, and data in different formats that were prepared in a manner to allow open public access. Deaths of workers in over 20 sectors were located in the data covering the years 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

After the project was completed, we reported the death of workers with regular media monitoring and loaded them into the database at the end of each respective month. The most important details included the name of the company for whom they worked, and the names of the workers that were killed. This information was uploaded to the data table, and provide the opportunity to see the working frequency of losses that may have occurred in the same institution on a monthly basis.

We began to gather media interest in the project, and the data began to be utilised by both journalists and media institutions, including the maps and charts. It began to be a reference guide to politicians, which helped to combat the major problem we have here in Turkey, of how to better achieve the provision of correct data recording, storage and availability.

There is a link to the project at


  1. What is the next thing for data driven journalism in Turkey/ what’s your vision for data driven journalism in Turkey?

This is very good question, and my answer could go on forever, however I will try to summarise. I have been working on Data Driven projects for almost three years now but things are still moving very slowly. Data driven means ‘slow journalism’, including investigative and modern journalism. The next steps for data driven journalism in Turkey depend on several things.  Firstly Turkey’s media needs to make some data centre policies   like Western, American, African and Asian media does. For example, with the exception of  my organisation Dağ Medya, which is a relatively small newsroom, there is no access in Turkey for any other datablog including The Guardian, The New York Times UpShot, i100independent, ZeitOnline Datablog, The Washington Post Data Post, FiveThirtyEight, and Propublica.

Media owners, editor-in-chiefs, and reporters need to follow this new trend because the world digital media is changing every day. Classic journalism is still important but we must  follow and import this new discipline of journalism into our newsrooms and build stronger and more transparent news storytelling for the readers. This will make goverments work harder and make it difficult to hide the truth from the public, all by using data driven journalism. The Freedom of Information (FOI) also needs to work faster as it is really very cumbersome and journalists need push the system and make them work. The bureaucracy are not aware of how public data can be useful for journalism, and they are not formatting their files correctly (csv,xls or any open format) so that it will be easier to access. We need to work together to achieve mutual enlightenment.

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Open data tools are in the rise but not really from Turkish developers or available in Turkish. We need  some local coders to make these data tools in Turkish, and make them for minimal cost or even free  so that these tools become accessible and without technical knowledge; meaning anyone can make graphics, maps and visualisation easier.

The media organisations need to give regular data journalism training and must include different professional skills into their Newsrooms (Statistics, Data Science, Programming, Design). I had a conversation with Co-founder and CEO Nicolas Kayser-Bril when he joined our Data Journalism workshop at Hacettepe University in Ankara last March, who told me that European Newsroom are already doing this regularly.

Open data culture should be developed in Turkey for Data Driven Journalism, and the government ministries need to start opening their databases for public use and ease of access to mirror other countries. Yes, it is true that Turkish Government are already signed up for Open Data Partnership in 2011 which guarantees against anti-corruption as well,  and at the beginning of 2015 they published the ‘Times Table of Open Data Partnership’. However, they must organise and speak more about open data.  An open Government means Open Data Journalism for data journalists, and if your government is truly open then this mean they must also be accountable.

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Our communication faculties must start teaching Data Journalism in Communication Faculties to keep current, like Tilburg University, City University London, Stanford University and more. In America, 28.1% of journalists say they’d like more training about Data Journalism (rated in 2013, may be more now) and so if journalism students do not get data based education, it is hard to integrate Newsrooms after graduation. You can see this as a chain, as all areas globally could connect to each other.

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In this scope we need more training about data, big data, open data, and open/data journalism. I began teaching the subject for the first time in Kadir Has University at the  start of the academic year 2013 and it continues 2015-2016  education year. I have also held and still continue more than 15 Data Journalism Workshops in 3 years, mostly in Universities including: Yıldız Technical University, Istanbul Communication University,  Ankara Communication Faculty, Hacettepe Communication University, Bahçeşehir University, Şehir University and more. We organise regular data journalism workshops and also Open Data seminars for University studies in this area to make data literacy a part of their education.

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I have concerns with non-governmental organizations (NGO) in Turkey. We have many NGOs but they are  slow to act collectively and are still not speaking about data or open data. We also have a need to create an organisation such as Open Data Foundation and Open Knowledge Foundation to improve the climate of this area. For example, you can get the UN’s  database easily in English but you can not get same in Turkish from local NGOs and there is not enough visibility for the data skill from NGOs workers either. They are also reporting in text based information. So, if the NGOs also helped the media to be able to reach open data and kept it updated regularly it would be a big help to journalists, allowing them to work with the data and develop data driven journalism indirectly.

-What is our current position, and what are our future goals regarding Data Journalism In Turkey?

Data Journalism Platform, Data Journalism School, Reginal Open Data /Journalism Conference, Data Journalism Workshops / Courses (In 3 Year 15 Workshops)

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