Project description

My portfolio shows some of the journalistic investigations carried out during the last year. As co-director and head of journalistic projects at Civio, I design, lead, and monitor all of the initiatives developed by our newsroom. In Spain, my journalistic work is most recognized by \’Our Daily Official Gazette’, a one-person journalistic project that, since 2012, scrutinizes hundreds of decrees, appointments, subsidies and acts and edicts that lie low everyday under thousands of pages of the Spain\’s Official Gazette and convert then into news and data.

https://civio.es/en/our-daily-official-gazette

This scrutiny of public authorities has driven to relevant scoops. Some examples are the electoral subsidies assigned to the parties after regional elections and the huge budgetary deviations of the Ministry of Defence.

https://civio.es/el-boe-nuestro-de-cada-dia/2018/12/03/el-batacazo-electoral-del-psoe-traducido-a-euros-pierde-un-millon-en-subvenciones/

https://civio.es/el-boe-nuestro-de-cada-dia/2018/04/04/defensa-inflo-su-presupuesto-en-1-dot-350-millones-en-2017/

As an expert in the analysis and treatment of public information, I have led, along with David Cabo, the Pardonometer, an exhaustive data analysis and investigation about the use of governmental pardons in Spain since 1996. In 2018, we exposed for the first time that ¼ of every pardon conceded the previous year was granted to persons convicted for corruption charges.

https://civio.es/el-indultometro/2018/04/09/casi-uno-de-cada-cuatro-indultos-concedidos-en-2017-fue-para-condenados-por-corrupcion/

We also reported about public officers who have lost their jobs since 1996 due to a conviction.

https://civio.es/el-boe-nuestro-de-cada-dia/2018/11/21/500-funcionarios-han-perdido-su-plaza-por-condena-desde-1996-100-de-ellos-por-malversacion/

I believe in journalism as public service, not only by exposing the wrongdoing of the government but also by developing solutions for actual problems of the citizens. With this purpose in mind, I periodically update the price of the butane cylinder (established by the government) so citizens can know when they are charged a higher price than the stipulated.

https://civio.es/el-boe-nuestro-de-cada-dia/2018/11/19/la-bombona-de-butano-cuesta-ya-15-33-euros-a-niveles-de-2015/

Moreover, I have coordinated the development a web-based app to help readers check if they could be recipients of social energy tariffs for vulnerable households, and then help them apply for it. Many of these households were about to loose their social tariffs because they lacked of key information about an imminent policy change.

https://civio.es/bono-social/

Also, in 2018, I led an investigation to shed light on the financial relationships between the pharmaceutical industry and Spanish doctors. After analysing the ‘transfers of value’ from 140 pharma companies we found out that 18 Spanish physicians received more than 50,000 euros from one single company in 2017 and that many of them didn’t properly disclose their financial ties with the pharmaceutical industry

https://civio.es/medicamentalia/2018/10/09/18-doctors-received-over-50000-euros-each-from-a-single-pharmaceutical-company-in-2017/

What makes this project innovative?

My most known project, Our Daily Official Gazette, has made me an expert in legislative language since it requires a daily analysis of decrees, appointments, subsidies and acts. Most of my journalistic work is focused on making understandable these decisions for a broader audience and extract key findings hidden in the small print. My approach is to report on policies, not on politics, and this specialization has been instrumental to report on governmental action. For instance, reporting about the budget execution of the Ministry of Defence, recurrently inflated year after year with credits, which I analysed and count up to 350 million in 2017. Technology plays an essential role in my reporting. Web scraping, for instance, is a regular practice we carry out to extract information from the Official Gazette and report on governmental action. For example, about the presidential pardons granted since 1996. Moreover, I use a bot that calls to my cell phone every time a new pardon is published in the Official Gazette. As a reporter specialized in data journalist, I have also coordinated investigations that require building huge databases from zero. Sometimes even manually. For example, our DB of payments from the pharmaceutical industry to doctors. This was an extraordinary effort that made Civio the only media outlet able to report on this relevant topic. A Public service approach, open and transparent methodologies and Creative Commons licenced to enable information reuse are key values in my work. I also promote solutions based journalism in my organization. Our work doesn’t end when we expose wrongdoing and press the publish bottom: I also try to motivate action and changes within public institutions as a result of my investigations.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The impact I’m most proud of is related to a piece I wrote in mid 2018 exposing that 1,85 million vulnerable households were about to lose their social energy tariff within a month if they didn’t apply for its renewal. The app that enriches this investigation and makes the application process easier has been used by 230,000 readers since. Over 20 municipalities embedded or disseminated it and over 30 ONGs and media outlets did the same. Moreover, we have solved 200 requests for further information and assistance since then. My reporting on the use of governmental pardons in Spain has also taken me to testify as independent expert in the Governmental Pardons Congressional Commission. This was a major step for Civio’s team, since influence is also an important part of our organization. The investigation titled “One out of Four Pardons Granted in 2017 Went to Condemned for Corruption” was released after the Minister of Justice publicly stated that he had never pardoned a convicted for corruption. I was able to probe this wasn’t true, and this investigation registered 2,607 readers and 2’52’’ in retention time. All the information and data I publish is Creative Commons. This has an important impact in regards with number of readers reached. A big part of my audience reads my investigations in third-party sites, such as La Marea, El Confidencial, El Diario and many others. One of the hits of the year was the investigation about 18 physicians receiving more than 50K each from a pharma company. This piece reached 57,082 unique users and 5’10’’ time of reading. After raising awareness about potential conflicts of interest in the Spanish healthcare system and its lack of transparency, these findings were reflected in the report ‘Shedding Light on Transparent Cooperation in Healthcare’ that the NGO Mental Health Europe presented to the European Parliament. https://mhe-sme.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/MHE-SHEDDING-LIGHT-REPORT-Final.pdf

Source and methodology

All the articles, investigations and apps that I have coordinated are based in public and official sources, from the Official Gazette to the Companies Registry or State Public Procurement site. One of Civio’s principles is clarity in the exposure of sources used, and I put it into practice in each of my articles. And I always make my sources public. They are trustworthy and proven. I don’t only publish the methodology of every article, but I make an extra effort to do it in the most detailed way possible. Especially in complex reports. All the documents used are also open for public consultation. And I’m particularly committed to translate complex legislative language into understandable journalistic pieces for a general audience. About the methodologies used in some of the articles I included in this candidacy: Articles with the Official Gazette as source Many of the articles submitted are based on the daily scrutiny of the Official Gazette. For example, to report about pardons, we scrapped every pardon announcement since 1996 and set up the database that backs our Pardonometer project. It classifies and visualizes all the pardons granted to date, allowing readers to quickly and easily filter pardons by type of offense, compare the annual data and check the use made by different administrations of this prerogative. To conduct the data analysis, we used two sources: the pardons granted until 31st December 2018, published in the Official Gazette, and the statistics of convictions reported in the Spanish National Institute of Statistics (INE, in Spanish). We downloaded all the Series A disposition of the BOE since 1996 in HTML format. Once every disposition was downloaded, we have processed the pardons by classifying the title structure of each archive. We have used Ruby and Regular Expressions to carry out this identification and to extract the information we wanted from each text piece. The classification of the type of crime has been done according to the Penal Code and part of the data was added manually. To keep up with the pardons announcements in the Official Gazette we also have developed a bot with Ruby that alert us each time it identifies the text structure of a pardon in a disposition. Scrapping the BOE has also been key to the investigation about public workers who have lost their jobs since 1996 due to a conviction. We classified the data scraped in three parts: resignations, job losses by administrative sanction and, most of them, losses by conviction. After applying the corrections of errors (published on the BOE as well) or eliminating those losses of job that were cancelled or duplicated, we cleaned and consolidated all the information. Two points were the most complex ones: a) the type of public jobs, since there are hundreds of bodies and many overlap or change their names, it was very difficult to try to group them into a few types and categorize them; b) the crimes for which they are convicted. Although in most cases the crime appears in the BOE, in many ministerial orders this is not the case. I used other public sources to look for the sentences and thus to know for what crimes they had been condemned. Methodology of electoral subsidies assigned to the parties after Andalusian Parliament election I have been doing this type of analysis of electoral subsidies for several years now. In 2018, for this specific case, I used the electoral results published by the Junta de Andalucía (Government of Andalusian Autonomous Community) on its website the same night of the elections, with the results updated to 99.92% of the count. To calculate the maximum subsidies each political party is able to get, I studied the legislative order that regulates the distribution of subsidiaries. Then I developed a matrix that crosses the electoral results with the campaign spending of each party and the subsidies stabilised in the order. To make a comparison with the previous elections (2015), I used the Andalusian Chamber of Accounts report to know what subsidies could be distributed, what expenses the parties made and what was finally granted. The budgets of the parties for these elections come from the statements of the politicians from these parties to several newspapers and the analysis made by the media outlet Newtral. While all the media reported on the number of votes and sits obtained by each party, we offered distinctive and innovative content. Methodology of “18 Spanish physicians received more than 50,000 euros from one single pharma company in 2017” To report on doctors receiving money from pharma companies, I coordinated the scrapping and analysis of thousands of pages from reports of 145 pharmaceutical companies associated with the Farmaindustria Code of Good Practice. Most of their reports were non user-friendly, like pdfs or scanned images, which we had to extract manually. The extraction and analysis was performed between the end of August and the start of September 2018. To create the ranking of doctors that receive the biggest amounts, I focused not on the total payments (data for which is provided for these 18 doctors) but on those professionals who receive more than €50,000 from a single lab. In other words, those cases where the economic relationship between the pharmaceutical company and the healthcare professional stands out. In cases especially suspicious, such as vast sums paid for admission to conferences for a single doctor, we checked the facts with the doctor and the pharmaceutical companies. For the sake of simplicity, we sometimes use the word doctors instead of healthcare professionals, although one of the 18 is not a doctor but rather a biologist. We contacted the 18 professionals from the list on several occasions. 10 of them responded to our questions and 8 chose not to. We also contacted the Collegiate Medical Organisation without receiving any response.

Technologies Used

For the articles presented in this proposal, I used a number of technologies: In order to create the list of doctors receiving the biggest donations from pharmaceutical companies, I had to convert the original PDFs from the Pharma companies into structured data. Many of them required converting from PDF to Excel (via SmallPDF) and some others required applying OCR (using Abbyy FineReader). Once the data was in a spreadsheet, it was combined and cleaned using Open Refine, and analised in Excel (pivot tables, in this particular case). The same tools were used in the other articles. To convert the original data from the Official Gazette into workable formats, clean it and analyse it and calculate final results based on it I used Ruby. I was not directly responsible of creating the original data visualizations, custom-built using Javascript and D3.js by a front-end developer, but I co-designed them.

Project members

David Cabo and Raúl Díaz, developers, helped with data extraction, analysis and Visualization. Angela Bernardo co-authorez the investigation about payments from pharma companies to doctors

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