Making data visualisation accessible in Turkey


When you think of journalism in Turkey, data visualisation isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Although the country does boast a number of data driven newsrooms, interactive work is still new and developing.

Learning data visualisation in Turkey is challenge. The country comes 62nd out of 80 countries in terms of English proficiency, which is problematic considering that most tools are developed in English. And while there are data journalism trainings available, these are not necessarily accessible to the broader population.

However, the launch of a Turkish version of The Data Visualisation Catalogue might change this. The now-translated Catalogue, which was originally developed by Severino Ribecca to expand his own knowledge of data visuals, offers the opportunity for journalists across the country to learn about new visualisations and acquire the relevant skills.

We spoke to Pinar Dağ, one of the key translators, to find out more.

DDJ: How did you first get involved with The Data Visualisation Catalogue?

PD: Since 2012, I have taught many data journalism workshops here in Turkey, using The Data Visualisation Catalogue. However, it is difficult when people do not speak English. So, my first involvement with the Data Visualisation Catalogue happened from this. I emailed Severino Ribecca, the creator of Data Visualisation Catalogue, in 2016. I wanted to make a similar one in Turkish, but we decided it would be better to do a translation. In the summer of 2017, I proposed the idea my data journalism students, who were either trained in data journalism or interested in the field. With those who agreed to help, put together a nice team. We finally completed the translation in January 2018 and the Turkish version of the website has now gone live.

How does the Turkish media approach data journalism and, in particular, visualisation? Do you notice any differences with other countries or regions?

Although slow, I can say that more data journalism tools have been used in the Turkish media over the last 4-5 years. The most frequently used fields are daily news. I cannot say that I have often encountered investigative data journalism projects. But it is possible to see interactive maps, graphics, infographics, and timelines been used in the news. Some newsrooms such as  Evrensel, Birgün, Cumhuriyet, Bianet, Dağ Medya and more, use infographics and data visualisation. Widely used open source dataviz tools, such as Google fusion tables, Datawrapper, CartoDB, Google maps, and ArcGIS are also being used. Unfortunately, we are quite behind in comparison with today's American, European and Asian data journalism and data visualization projects. The simplest example can be seen through the broad range of countries that apply to the Data Journalism Awards every year. The same cannot be said for Turkey, which only rarely has applicants. Often, Turkey’s data driven projects do not go beyond the use of the official statistical agency

What challenges are there for journalists visualising data in Turkey?

My most obvious observation is laziness. Yes, the technical inadequacy, leak of skills, time-consuming, limited budgets, visual thinking skills are also challenges for journalists who want to visualize their data in Turkey. Maybe Turkish journalists would not agree with me, but they are not very ambitious to improve themselves.

There are free tools, there are networks where they can get support. There is a Turkish MOOC about Data Journalism. But mostly, they do not want to go beyond copy-paste journalism. It's not just about the newsroom's policy.  For instance, they still use bad, difficult to understand, static graphics. Even, at times faulty. The data visualizations made are also badly designed. So, less practice, poor presentation; it does not produce good results.

In today's world, people talk a lot about DDJ, but they do not produce enough work.  It can also be said for the Turkish media. I also mentioned in the GEN Data Journalism Awards' A data journalist’s new year’s resolutions slack discussion, that data journalists should do more data journalism projects that do not distract from the story. We need real stories.

Again, if I go back Turkey’s foundation, it may be good enough to stand on. There is no data issue here in Turkey. We have an e-government system, we have FOI. We can request for access to information. We can reach most of the essential data from government portals. The data is not open licensed, but it is publicly available. Almost all the world is having trouble with it. This is the most basic problem I see. Journalists should not show any effort to improve their skills. The situation is the same even in the best newsrooms. I do not want to be pessimistic, but it's the truth. I made more than 50 activities in this area, I regret to say that I reached at the very least journalists.

How did you go about conducting the translation? Did the Turkish language present any challenges and how did you overcome these?

I already teach Data Journalism in English at university, please see my syllabus here. It is not a problem for my students who take undergraduate or graduate courses. But workshops, which I organize outside the academy, there have been a lot of problems with reading materials, technical support contents, tools used, handbooks and more. In 2012, I started to develop original resources and make translations. Now, I have developed a well-regarded resource, academic articles, non-academic translation, course content, handbooks, e-courses, lesson plans/modules and more.

Moreover, I conducted this process mostly with my own resources. This was the biggest challenges.  For instance, sometimes data journalism websites introduce tools for advertising. And they also get a commission. I never did that. I had very little support.  I've never denied voluntary work. I still do not. Because my goal is to announce this field in Turkey – and I have succeeded in part. We need more intellectual work, but it is not easy. In a way, this was and still is data journalism activism. You are trying to teach people new skills and nobody has done it before. This engagement also provides satisfaction. Despite limited resources and lack of studies, there is now sufficient Turkish literature about Data Journalism in Turkey. Gladly, I can say that there is no Turkish resource problem any more. Now, we need to enrich and write more of these. We have to practice more – both journalists and academics.

What do you hope to achieve with the Turkish translation?

My goal is to create resources for researchers, journalists, academics for this news reporting model in Turkish. Providing access to information about the field more generally. But I regret to say that this is a little more difficult in a country with a weak foreign language proficiency and low data literacy.

Are there any other resources that you hope will be translated into Turkish?

Yes, there is. There are two sources that I want to translate by the end of 2018: One is Alberto Cairo's The Truthful Art (2016) book, and the other is Data Journalism: Past, Present and Future (2017). And right now, there are three translations that I am working on. One is the Open Data Handbook, which is about to finish. The others are Quartz's Bad Data Guide, and Paul Broadshow's Scraping for Journalists. We have also translated the Data Journalism handbook information Turkish, but it was not published online. The good news is that I will also contribute to the second version of the book, and I will be writing about Data Journalism in Turkey.

Explore The Data Visualisation Catalogue in English here or in Turkish here.

This interview has been edited for clarity.