Data Journalism Projects Based on User-Generated Content. How La Nacion Data Transforms Active Audience into Staff

Reviewed article.


This article aims to contribute to the debate on audience participation in the media from three points of view: (1) demonstrating how data journalism enables an effective participation by the public in news production, (2) establishing a typology of the forms of contribution, and (3) performing an in-depth study of La Nacion (Argentina), as an example of success in collaborative data projects carried out in Latin America. In order to achieve these objectives, firstly, all the Global Editors Network Data Journalism Awards were analysed with the purpose of detecting projects involving user-generated content. Secondly, La Nacion was studied from an ethnographic perspective, as it is the medium with the most prizes in which citizen participation was detected. The results show that collaboration between media and audience can make large-scale journalism projects a reality, and also that citizens in Argentina are recruited by LN Data specially to boost political accountability.


Active audience; collaborative journalism; data journalism; open data; participation; reciprocal journalism; user generated content


In 2017, the Panama Papers won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. This was awarded in recognition of the teamwork of more than 400 journalists from 107 media organizations in 80 countries who, coordinated by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, exposed the hidden infrastructure and global scale of offshore tax havens, analysing 11.5 million records and 2.6 terabytes of data (Sambrook 2016).

They demonstrated that collaborative journalism in the professional sphere (Stonbely 2017) can carry out prestigious public interest global macro-projects with a greater impact than those that can be produced by a single journalist or organization. Another landmark experience was Electionland, by ProPublica, which used networked journalism (Van Der Haak, Parks, and Castells 2012) to track and cover voting problems during the 2016 United States presidential election in real time. The new feature of this project was the professional collaboration of 250 news organizations, including content contributed by Journalism students and citizens, and accepting posts in English, Spanish and Chinese. The Washington Post also had citizen support when it distributed cameras among refugees so that they could film their arrival on Lesbos.

In recent years in Latin America, important data journalism projects have been carried out that have required audience assistance in managing content in order to cover topics that journalists cannot do alone, in some cases because of the volume of data to be analysed and in others because of its scarcity. Thanks to the participation of victims and witnesses, a number of media organizations have revealed situations involving huge breaches of human rights not identified in official records. These examples form the basis for a Nieman Lab prediction for 2018: “Sharing is caring… As an industry,and as individuals, we’re realizing that we need to invest in organizational change, personal growth, and the human connections that will get us there” (Thomas 2017).

This context demonstrates that the academic approach to data journalism as a technique that allows effective interrelationships among journalists and audience is relevant. Nevertheless, debates on the topic focus more on interactive functions (Loosen, Reimer, and De Silva-Schmidt 2017), or the audience is perceived more as users rather than as creators (Boyles and Meyer 2016), thus avoiding consideration of how this collaboration is opening doors onto stories that would not have been published in other ways. This study offers something novel in that it considers a scenario that has received little attention: the development of crowdsourced data in Latin America.

Source: reviewed article

Literature Review

Numerous studies reflect how over the last decade the media have developed a great dependence on active audiences (Bolin 2012) and social networks (Singer et al. 2011). Digital tools have the capacity to alter the traditional relationship between journalism and its audience (Loosen and Schmidt 2012), which requires a balance between professional control and open participation in the creation and circulation of media (Lewis 2012).

User-Generated Content and the Two Sides of Participation

This panorama represents a rupture with asymmetrical communication (Marchionni 2013) and an empowerment process that makes it possible to transform a suspicious and alienated audience (Pavlik 2001) from content readers into content producers. This approach is related to the UGC concept, in the sense of “content produced by ‘citizen journalists’ that closely resembles the output of ‘traditional’ journalists’” (Nashmi et al. 2017), requiring a degree of personal contribution and creative effort (Naab and Sehl 2017).


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  • To cite this article
    Bella Palomo, Laura Teruel & Elena Blanco-Castilla (2019): «Data Journalism Projects Based on User-Generated Content. How La Nacion Data Transforms Active Audience into Staff». Digital Journalism, DOI: 10.1080/21670811.2019.1626257
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