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Data journalism is taking root at AFP

For the past three years, data journalism has been taking root at AFP thanks both to specialists and an increasingly wide network of journalists trained in these new ways of searching for, gathering and presenting information. "It's fairly rare in the media world but we have a total of 100 journalists at the Agency who have already been trained -- to a more or less advanced level -- in the skills of data journalism and data visualisation," says Sophie Huet, Deputy News Director.

This data set shows air disasters since 1994. It includes every crash with more than 20 dead in the world and seven dead in Europe. It also shows crashes with more than 100 deaths between 1980 and 1993 and the main crashes before that, especially those involving famous people. © AFP

At the end of 2017, more than 100 people packed out a room at HQ for a meeting about the new techniques, showing how much interest data journalism has sparked in the newsroom.

First to develop these skills were the Graphics and Innovation Department, which processes data for graphics or interactive graphics, and the Multimedia Archives Department, which creates and updates databases on various subjects (Brexit, doping, air crashes, earthquakes). It is also gaining ground -- on a voluntary basis -- with journalists that regularly deal with data, like the Economics or Social Departments.

AFP is also involved in ambitious projects that are driving forward our data journalism work. The most recent is AFPData, selected in July 2017 by the Google Digital News Initiative (DNI), which also in 2016 supported AFP Interactive, the Agency's interactive graphics production. This new project will run for 18 months and will extend our work on data journalism and produce new data-based editorial content.

The first component would be for Agency journalists to create data sets like those AFP produced for all the candidates in the French presidential election, "a fairly large database with nearly 3,000 entries," says Sophie Huet.

"These are data we need to do our work on a daily basis and to perform fact-checking but which are not always available to outsiders," she says. So we had the idea of selecting data sets with strong editorial added value and making them available not only to editorial staff within the Agency but also to clients on a beta-trial basis. "For this, we are working with a partner, OpenDataSoft, which promotes the data using platforms with advanced features," adds Sophie Huet, deputy to Michèle Léridon.

The second component of AFPData is about how to use the data to create editorial content. For this, AFP has joined forced with Syllabs, a company specialising in creating automatic news. The aim is to use data to produce text automatically, in a repetitive format or in large quantities, with the possibility of adapting the style of the writing. "But it will always be the journalist who defines in advance which data will be used, which format will be employed and what level of language," reveals Sophie Huet. Along the same lines, AFP is exploring programmes that create small videos from data sets. For the whole project, AFP is working with Laptop, a team of user-experience designers, to ensure that what we are developing matches clients' needs.

Iris 360: Changing our culture when it comes to agendas.

In 2017, we made significant efforts to expand the use of IRIS 360, AFP's agenda tool, throughout the organization, with the eventual aim of creating an interactive agenda platform for clients. "It's a serious change of culture," stresses Sophie Huet.

"The whole editorial staff needs to understand how important agendas are for our clients -- especially those that need  to plan far in advance -- and consider them as a totally separate item that we need  to produce, " she says, urging colleagues to " embrace a tool that, in 2018, will also be used to create our advisories. "

Sophie Huet

Sophie Huet

Deputy News Director