I am a 25-year old data journalist and college teacher focused on rebuilding the memory of Colombia’s armed conflict through innovative digital technology and journalism devoted to public service. I committed myself to this path when I was only 19, as part of the launching team of the media outlet Rutas del Conflicto. This project sparked from the need to provide visibility to events of the Colombian armed conflict that had not been narrated neither by traditional media nor the State in official documents.
Today, this independent Colombian media outlet gathers accurate information from Colombia’s armed conflict through journalistic databases, narrative content, research and investigative journalism. One of the most daunting tasks we undertook was the documentation of more than 700 massacres which have happened since 1982, telling the stories of their survivors and presenting them to the public using a wide range of modern tools on the internet. I personally documented around 220 of them.
In October 2018, we published Yo sobreviví (I survived), a book I helped compile, which includes experiences of war and resistance of the survivors of these massacres.
Over the last year, I have contributed to the coordination of new data and research projects designed to amplify the voice of those who have suffered from violence. We explore the scope of data journalism around one key question: How can we produce accessible information that allows people to view the magnitude of the armed conflict encouraging a deeper understanding of the subject? That is how through our own databases, enhanced with visualizations, maps, in-depth reports and virtual tours, we have succeeded in creating innovative tools and narratives that clarify issues of transcendental importance for the transition to a time of peace in the country.
We have managed to map and explain the dimension of enforced disappearance in Colombian rivers and the relationship between violence and land ownership that today thousands of victims claim as dispossessed. I have been the deputy editor of these projects, contributing to editorial and visual guidelines for their structure.
I also integrate the editorial team of La Paz en el Terreno (Peace of the Territories), a project which follows the implementation of the recent Peace Agreement in Colombia in two central issues: the alarming situation of threat and persecution against social leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia and the slow process of reincorporation of ex-combatants. Following my calling as a teacher, I also direct workshops on communication and journalistic tools for citizen reporting in rural areas of Colombia so that they can build their own memory work. At the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá, I coordinate a think thank for journalism students which explores new narratives for data journalism, as well as being an editor for Plaza Capital, the local media outlet that these students manage.
What makes this project innovative?
Over the last year, my work in Rutas del Conflicto has focused on innovating in these two aspects: journalistic technique and its relationship with the source of information. Regarding the journalistic technique, we have experimented with digital languages creating content from scratch. We have combined in-depth journalism, the construction of databases and innovative ways to visualize them: these include timelines, interactive cartographies, search engines and relationship maps. For instance, we were able to tell stories of enforced disappearance and community resistance, which had been unknown by public opinion, through a map showing the relationship of these aspects with Colombian rivers. In addition, we showed the identity of the people and companies involved in the dispossession and the forced abandonment of lands of more than 50 cases. We have created different databases that can be filtered according to what information is needed. For example, after the Peace Process, we developed a database that allows anyone to search the different cases of murders of social leaders according to their region, their type of leadership, the situation of prior threats, among others. Data journalism has also been useful to map the actions that a network of women's organizations carries out to prevent violence against women, in a project which I co-direct, called Mujeres en Avanzada (Women who move forward). As for the relationship with the source of information, Rutas del Conflicto has been known to seek that people tell their own story. We have chosen to recognize the victims in their individuality, going beyond the data and giving a face to the violence. Dignifying the memory of the victims and involving them in the construction of their own memory is a way in which journalism can contribute to the reconstruction of the national historical memory of armed conflicts.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
The projects of Rutas del Conflicto have impacted the construction of peace in Colombia in different ways. Not only through the visibility of the voices of the survivors, but also through the recognition of their rights, the construction of local, regional and national memory work and through innovation in journalism to achieve peace-building processes. We have been reviewed as a source of information for context analysis of the different judicial rulings that seek to repair the victims of the armed conflict and return their dispossessed lands. I have taught multiple workshops with young people, social leaders and victims to contribute to their training in communication tools and collective work in the construction of their own memory. Three colleagues and I compiled a book called Yo Sobreviví (I Survived) with the experiences of the war and the resistance of the survivors of the massacres that occurred in Colombia, as the pinnacle of all the databases, visualizations and cartographies built since 2014 on this subject. We have positioned transcendental topics for the memory of the country in the public opinion in at least five opportunities during the last year. This was possible through the public launchings of the findings made on our largest in-depth reports in multitudinous events, with conversations that included the participation of the territories and the presence of other media outlets. I have moderated some of these conversations myself. We have been a source of information on the reports on the evolution of the regional war dynamics for the National Center of Historical Memory (Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica), as well as appeared in multiple publications from other institutions, research centres, social organizations and the media. In the last year, we have been invited to seven international and national conferences to share our experience, not only in journalism, communication and transitional justice but also for the fields of oral history, forensic anthropology and childhood and youth. I have participated in over five of them, In the last year, our work was recognized in four occasions as a winner or finalist of journalistic excellence and human sciences competitions (one international and three national) by organizations such as the Interamerican Press Association and the Journalists Circle of Bogotá (Círculo de Periodistas de Bogotá). For at least three of the recognized products, I was either a co-author or a deputy editor. Furthermore, we won a scholarship on Reconnaissance and Visibilization of Women’s Cultural Rights, awarded by the District’s Stimuli Program in 2018. The result was the project Mujeres en Avanzada (Women who move forward), an audiovisual cartography of the Network of women moving towards Power and Peace, developed in a marginalized Bogotá neighbourhood. This is a project I co-direct. According to Juan José Hoyos, a veteran Colombian journalist recognized for his coverage of the armed conflict, Rutas del Conflicto is "an inclusion tool that breaks the hierarchies of information management about the conflict and will allow many Colombians from the same community to understand the magnitude of the horror that thousands of compatriots have endured in recent years”. "Through innovative tools and narratives, this initiative has become an indispensable archive about war and resistance (...). Rutas del Conflicto has managed to build bridges within the communities, weave bonds of trust with victims and social organizations”, wrote the National Center of Historical Memory in an article about our work on the occasion of our 5th anniversary. Our work has inspired others. Rutas del Conflicto's maps and timelines inspired the Brazilian webpage Justica de Transicao, which gathers the entire history of the Federal Public Prosecutor's (Ministerio Publico Federal) investigations about country's military dictatorship, coordinated by journalist Marcelo Oliveira. The media site Expediente Público in Nicaragua used our work to create a project to rebuild the historical memory related to crimes committed in this country since the decade of the ’90s. A project of the Technologic University of Cartagena (Colombia) contacted us to help them with our experience related to the construction of a data journalism project with university students. Together with Universidad del Rosario (Bogota), one of our main allies, we institutionalized a research think tank with journalism students which I coordinate. Rutas del Conflicto continues producing its radio program, which is broadcasted weekly by Universidad del Rosario on their online radio station, URosario Radio. Regarding metrics, adding the numbers of different Rutas del Conflicto projects between March 26, 2018, and April 4, 2019, we had 144.122 unique users, 200.690 sessions in the portal and 396.513 visits to its pages, according to the website's Google Analytics information. In social media, the main window of our content, on April 7, 2019, we have 12,539 followers on Facebook, 9,231 followers on Twitter and 2,763 followers on Instagram. It is important to say that more than 95% of our reach on social media is organic, that is to say, it has not happened thanks to the payment of advertising, and it has had a progressive growth. I must say that everything Rutas del Conflicto has achieved has been a collective effort of 21 journalists accompanied by survivors from the conflict and communities of the national territory that have believed in our work.
Source and methodology
Rutas del Conflicto aims to contribute to the "puzzle" of the country's memory. It implements in-depth and long-term data journalism, carried out with the support of victims' communities in Colombia. In terms of financing and production, we generally seek alliances with other journalistic organizations, but we have always led all our investigations. In each new project, the team identifies a complex problem with a national impact whose magnitude is unknown. Later, there is an initial phase of brainstorming and reporting to outline the development of a database. The problem must have a piece of base evidence on which to start. This one can be, for example, a type of document, such as contracts for the implementation of the Peace Agreement; or a specific type of victimization, such as enforced disappearance in rivers or the killing of social leaders and human rights defenders. The pilot is built collectively with the consultation of documentary and archive information (press clippings, academic studies, judicial rulings, state databases, and others). The initial variables of the database are determined based on three things: first, the ways of organizing the data; second, the best way to analyse the data, and third, the best way to visualize the data. The variables of the databases respond to characteristics of the records that will allow us to filter them. Depending on the subject, they can be dates, places, types of victims, types of victimizers, types of businesses, among other possibilities. We always use maps to visualize the databases, considering that the georeferencing coordinates of each record are a key part of the reporting process. Records always have a place on the map. Subsequently, the team is divided into two: journalistic production and an area of design and development. Both have parallel chronograms. On one hand, the reporting and the contrast of information begins. On the other hand, the content managers and the first mockups of the visualizations are developed. Journalists divide their records among themselves, continue to consult documentary sources, and above all, testimonial sources to contrast the "official" information and provide new cases for which there is no record. The involvement of communities is vital for this project. Through different strategies, ranging from interviews, a citizen participation channel on the Rutas del Conflicto website and workshops in different regions (on memory, narrative, communication tools, etc.), we seek to make them participants in the construction of the information that we register. Journalists and facilitators collect this input and use it to complement the databases, always contemplating security protocols to protect the identity of sources that might be at risk and to safeguard the information. The calls to participate are made via social networks, email and through communication with social and victims’ organizations. This protocol of the creation of databases that include the voice of several testimonies has made us the main journalistic data bank with information on the armed conflict in Colombia. This has also allowed us to have an excellent relationship with the communities that have suffered violence. To give a context to the research topic, along with the process of construction of records in the database and the contrast of information, the team adjusts the variables, the design and development, and investigates some representative stories of the database with greater depth. These stories are subsequently published as multimedia reports, which complement the information mission of the database. Both products are equally important. On some occasions, we have published the full testimonies of the survivors who participated in the workshops I coordinate. After approving the final mockups of design and development, the multimedia reports are published in the website and, in some cases, we open a citizen participation channel called “Tu Memoria Cuenta” (Your Memory Tells). This is a participative tool which invites victims to communicate with Rutas del Conflicto so as to correct mistakes or report new information for the database.
Rutas del Conflicto’s members: Oscar Parra (director), Fernanda Barbosa, Juan Gómez, Lia Valero, Alejandro Ballesteros, Álvaro Avendaño, Daniela Aguirre, Carol Sánchez, Nicole Acuña, Silvia Corredor Jimena Neira, David Riaño, Pilar Puentes, Richard Romero,Ricardo Sánchez,Paula Hernández, Santiago Luque, Sharon Mejía, Juana Callejas, Luisa Rincón, Laura Peñuela.