In Uruguay, water quality has become a matter of public debate during the past five years, bursting in the population’s everyday life: cases of smells and turbidity of the potable water, beaches closed down because of cyanobacteria, animals that died after having ingested the water from rivers with toxic flowering. Complaints and information multiplied and revolved around the Plate River as for the beaches and Santa Lucía basin which proves water to 80% of the country’s inhabitants. Moreover, the planned installation of one of the world’s greatest pulp mill on the shores of the Black River, and the implementation of one irrigation law that stimulates the reservoirs are creating environmental challenges for the country, and require both the empowerment of control mechanisms and the presence of informed and vigilant citizens.
Beyond the intents of the government, like the creation of a National Environmental Observatory to centralize information, the politics of access and disclosure of information are neither clear nor uniform between the distinct state agencies. Information remain dispersed and usually presented with technical expressions that are not understood by the majority of the population. It should also be added that the powers often overlap at the level of the national government and the departmental institutions.
This is why, as a newspaper, we consider that fomenting information around water quality, supported by a knowledge community and from the open data perspective, embodies a significant contribution to improve both the access to data and the understanding of the issue by our readers and population in general, to the extent that the information generated in Río Abierto remains available for everyone.
We consider essential the task of Río Abierto to democratize the access to information regarding water quality and management, creating tools for information processing and visualization, promoting actions that improve citizens’ awareness and participation for the preservation of a key resource for the life of present and future generations.
Río Abierto is a project of la diaria and researchers from the Science Faculty of the University of the Republic, financed by the Latin-American Alliance for Civic Technology (ALTEC). When the project is achieved, Río Abierto will keep going as a backbone of la diaria’s specialized journalism, encompassing other themes related to the environment, and supported by the newspaper whose business sustenance is based on the readers’ community (its incomes depend at 81% on the subscribers, 14% on advertising and 5% on projects and the sale of services).
What makes this project innovative?
Río Abierto is a striking example of collaborative and participative journalism, from the shaping of its editorial board, the co-designing dynamics of the press agenda to content creation. We believe that the interaction between disciplines and knowledge in a collaborative atmosphere can entail significant discoveries, and solutions to the world’s current issues. From the design of the project we contemplate the challenge of feeding and bettering the journalism we do with the concerns and knowledge that hold our subscribers and allies, wagering the creation of knowledge community. The editorial board is formed of journalists, scientists, experts in access to public information, the environment and technology. The raison d’être of the editorial board is to manage a knowledge community. The project involves la diaria’s readers’ community in every step of its development, creating co-creation and collaboration workshops with the participation of the civil society, the academy and the government. We proposed to carry out a survey to disclose aspects related to the water use integral practices, the level of knowledge or information around the topic and our subscribers’ valorization and interest to participate in water management as citizens. We led different co-creation workshops: Río Abierto defined the main lines of its press agenda in an open workshop that took place in la diaria Lab, and with the participation of subscribers, interested citizens, representatives of the civil society, academy and government. Another central trait has been to invade the political dimension of the territories and their inhabitants, which led us to organize workshops near the basin of the Santa Lucía River, in which participated neighbors, environmental agencies, local media and authorities. We have equally been involved in meetings set up by governmental actors, with the purpose to contribute to Open Government processes related to the issue.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
Rio Abierto aimed to raise awareness about the critical situation water management faces in Uruguay. Uruguay's commodity-driven exports (soy, beef, rice) as well as the new pulp mill industry place the country's freshwater reservoirs at risk. According to a survey we designed, 70% of the respondents perceive that they do not participate in water management and 90% consider that the available information is insufficient. However, 72% would like to learn more; 71% would like to receive recommendations for better use at the national level, 32% would like to participate in workshops and 10% would like to generate content. In short, our hypothesis was that, with the right information and motivation, people would engage more in this matter. Our project focused on the country’s most important freshwater source, the Santa Lucía river basin. Through our work we have: Developed a grounded learning community:120 women and 97 men participated directly in the co-creation spaces (face-to-face) and 834 people participated in virtual activities (academia, civil society and government). 174 actors linked Rio Abierto’s actions to political advocacy. Our publication, Rio Abierto, reaches 12,500 la diaria subscribers, and the released contents are available to more than 490 thousand unique users who consume the digital content of the daily. We uncovered 10 topics that pushed government to take action on this matter. "Uruguayan newspaper la diaria, born in 2006, is an atypical case in the Latin American media environment. Its experience offers a sum of innovative elements in areas such as journalistic formula, business model and the media-audience relationship, among others. With initiatives, such as its management by a worker’s cooperative, the launch of paid vertical channels, its bet on digital subscriptions or its innovation laboratory known as la diaria LAB, this newspaper from Uruguay has managed to gain a foothold in the innovative Latin American media landscape”, Ismael Nafría, Journalism in the Americas Blog. La Diaria is the Uruguayan media that hacked the newspaper distribution system, founding its own logistics operation and generating income from the subscription. Since then, it has not stopped expanding from paper to digital, from audience to community, and from generational journalism to the democratization of knowledge", Mijal Iastrebner, co-founder of SembraMedia.
Source and methodology
We have developed a mixed methodology approach to run this project: a) We have carried out a survey amongst our subscriber base (12500) to gauge their interest in the matter b)We mapped and visualized the relevant stakeholders in Uruguay’s water governance c) We analysed the relevant media reports and issues in the Santa Lucía River Basin d) We engaged the local population to create a journalistic agenda The data of this project was obtained through legal information requests made by the Rio Abierto team to different agencies. The data produced by the team is available on a portal that is currently under construction and on some databases stored in the Open Data Catalog of the Uruguayan E-Gov Agency. With regard to the quality of the data obtained: most of the datasets are outdated, incomplete, partial and 100% of the answers were provided in non-open formats, that is, not processable by machine, such as pdf or paper files. Our team has processed the data, in many cases assembling the database from different files, with different names of columns and in some cases converting units to make comparisons. This process sometimes included inquiries to the agencies or the academy to understand the data. The data is available in CSV format and with metadata generated by the Río Abierto team. Other sources of data are the following: Cinap Consultant (subscribers of the daily who have joined the knowledge community for data processing and analysis, for example, the Continuous Household Survey), National Institute of Agricultural Research (INIA), National Directorate of the Environment (DINAMA), National Directorate of Cadastre (DNC), General Directorate of Natural Resources.
Our platform is built on python and we publish open data at a 3-star level (CSV files). We have also taken accessibility into account applying WAG WCAG 2.0 standard (People with disabilities and elderly people) We aimed to develop and UX focus on gender, creating specific sections for this. As for the procedure of obtaining data, we have already referred to the freedom of information access that we use. Due to the quality and the formats of the data we have been sent, data processing meant manually refining the data in excel tables or spreadsheets of Google Drive and then convert them into CSV files. These will be available for download in our portal. But in any case we have requested several subscribers and students our databases which have been shared. For information storage, we use Dropbox and Google Drive. With regard to visualization, we use easy-to-use tools that allow us to create graphics, stories and interactive maps such as Flourish, Infogram, Onodos or Canvas. Around data availability, we are developing a portal in wordpress that will be freely accessible and where you can download the databases. In addition, all journalistic content is available on la diaria’s website. Also, the Rio Abierto section is publicly accessible and free of charge under a creative commons licence.
RÍO ABIERTO is a project of la diaria with researchers from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of the Republic. Lucia Pardo - Project coordinator Natalia Uval - Content Coordinator Ana Tuduri - Data coordinator Silvia Da Rosa - Software engineer Luis Aubriot y Guillermo Chalar, Researchers from the Faculty of Science of the University of the Republic in Montevideo. Sandro Pereira - Photo editor Leo Lagos - Editor of la diaria Science Section Amanda Muñoz - Editor of la diaria Health Section Léo Lamotte a french student who is currently doing an internship in environmental journalism at la diaria.