The data generated by citizen science projects can shed a light on the state of local ecosystems or on pollution levels in a specific area: but can this data be also used by journalists to tell meaningful data stories, with and for local communities?
In order to test the developing concept of Citizen Science Journalism and find ways to bring citizen science projects together with data journalists, NEWSERA launched a pairing activity. It involved some of the journalists who took part as media experts in the Science and Data Journalism Lab and a selection of NEWSERA Pilots, who worked together to produce a data journalism article with data generated by the citizen science project.
During the pairing activity, Pilot projects learned how a piece of journalism based on CS-generated data is born and conducted meetings with journalists to explore their dataset, define the focus of the article, and discuss the final results.
The stories born from the pairing activity
The pairing activity involved two Pilots per country and started during the Summer of 2022. As of today, it brought to the publication of 5 articles.
1. “The Government’s plan for water reserves keeps the high pressure of irrigation intact” (El País, Spain, 24/11/2022)
Experts warn of less rainfall due to climate change, but crop water spending for the next five years persists.
The piece, published on one of the most important newspapers in Europe, focused on the issue of drought in Spain and featured data collected by Observatorio Ciudadano de la Sequía. It was written by El País journalist Javier Martin-Arroyo as a result of the collaboration between OCS and journalist Michele Catanzaro. The article explains in details the causes and consequences of water scarcity in Spain during 2022, and their relationship with irrigation in agricolture.
The story on drought in Spain published on El País.
2. InNat: how citizen science becomes crucial to scientific research (Il Bo Live, Italy, 13/12/2022)
3.242 entries, 570 participants for 32 different species or habitats: the data from the InNat project demonstrated that citizens can be engaged and become crucial to scientific research.
This article resulted from the collaboration between data journalist Antonio Massariolo and the InNat project, that engages people from all over Italy to report and photograph different species of beetles and other organisms. The article explains in detail how the project started in 2017, and gives a full account of the data, the collectors, the involvement of over 500 citizen scientists, the important impact of the monitoring and the institutions involved. It also explains the process of citizen science and its benefits for the production of original and relevant new scientific knowledge. A series of interactive data visualisations let readers navigate through maps, timelines and other infographics.
An interactive map showing records of different beetle species during the years and across the country.
3. The great sickness of Rome is called the Tiber (Il Bo Live, Italy, 16/12/2022)
High levels of ammonia and E. coli are causing health concerns for Italy’s third largest river. Citizens in a citizen science project collected data to try to identify the causes.
For this article, Italian pilot Roma Up collaborated with data journalist Marco Boscolo. The article recounts how the project was born in the context of the history of pollution and environmental crisis of the major river crossing the city of Rome, the Tiber. As for the first article, an important part of the article was devoted not only to explain the science and the results behind the project, but also the potential of the citizen science approach. The text is integrated by maps and charts, detailing the levels of different pollutants recorded at multiple locations along the course of the river.
Graph showing E. coli levels detected in the Tiber’s waters.
4. The Forum is quantifying odor pollution for the first time through a citizen science project (Diari de Barcelona, Spain, 26/01/2023)
The stench of mud and sewage leads the bad smells detected by the neighborhood and collected in real time through the OdourCollect application, from the D-NOSES project.
This story was written by Eli Vivas and the Storydata Team in collaboration with Pilot project D-NOSES/OdourCollect. The article explains the roots of the problem of odour pollution in the Barcelona area and goes through the different datasets collected by citizen scientists, giving details about the methodology employed by D-NOSES. It also gives the context of the actual (lack of) policies regarding the issue, making the case for the potential of citizen science to help tackle the problem, by proving a sound methology to measure it. The piece is completed by a browsable map of the OdourCollect database and a series of graphs that detail the types and intensity of odour records.
Infographic showing the types of odours recorded by participants through the OdourCollect app.
5. The dark side of LEDs (Diari de Barcelona, Spain, 24/02/2023)
Light pollution has increased in Barcelona in the last decade due to the replacement in public lighting of orange light, which is less efficient, for white light, which is more polluting.
This story brought together the NEWSERA Pilot Cities at Night, that records light pollution level in Barcelona, and again Eli Vivas and the Storydata Team. The article explains in detail the causes and consequences of light pollution, in general and with reference to the Barcelona area. Moreover, it goes though the differences between orange and white light, explaining the lesser-known issues caused by energy-efficient LEDs lights. Data on light pollution collected by participants in Cities at Night is shown through different graphs as well as satellite images and illustrations.
Interactive image that shows light pollution in Barcelona in 2012 and 2020.
Illustration on light pollution caused by different types of streetlight.
Other NEWSERA data stories
The research conducted by the NEWSERA Pilots and the collaborations born between them and journalists have inspired the publication of other articles, such as the article “Can a mobile game help to understand breast cancer?” about the GENIGMA project on El Periodico, explains how the app aims to decipher the genome of breast cancer cells with the help of citizens, thanks to the human ability to detect patterns.
Another wonderful example of a data story produced with data generated by a NEWSERA Pilot, though, is “Butterflies, a colorful reflection of biodiversity loss”, published on Publico. This multimedia work, rich in infographics, was written by Claudia Carvalho Silva and by the infographic journalists Cátia Mendonça, José Alves and Francisco Lopes, who developed the special page, collected databases, created infographics and illustrations. The work is (also) based on data collected by NEWSERA Pilot Censos de Borboletas from Tagis, in mainland Portugal, and the counting of butterflies carried out in Madeira. The article explains the current threats to the survival of butterflies, gives an account of the species of butterflies in Portugal and explains how to properly carry out a butterfly census (encouraging readers to participate).
Infographics showing the sizes of the 60 species of diurnal butterflies common throughout Portugal.