Journalism and AI team up to measure missing stories

Violent organized crime is one of the biggest crises facing
Mexico, and it places journalists in harm’s way. Murders are a
daily occurrence in many parts of the country, and
research shows
that Mexico is the most deadly place in the
world for reporters outside of active war zones. The natural desire
to avoid becoming a target has led some journalists to choose to
stay quiet to save their lives.

Something akin to a code of silence has emerged across the
country. We suspected that there were entire regions where
journalists were not reporting on the violence, threats,
intimidation and murder that were well known to be part of daily
life.

We set out to measure this silence and its impact on journalism.
To do so, we partnered with the Google News Initiative to use the
power of machine learning and artificial intelligence to quantify
and visualize news coverage and analyze the gaps in coverage across
the country.

Our first step was to establish a process to determine the
absence of news. We explored articles on violence to understand how
they compare to the government’s official registry of
homicides.

In theory, each murder that occurs ought to correspond with at
least one local report about the event. If we saw a divergence, or
if the government’s reports were suddenly very different from local
news coverage, we could deduce that journalists were being
silenced.

Early on, sorting through news articles seemed impossible. We
knew we needed to find a news archive with the largest number of
publications in Mexico possible so we could track daily coverage
across the country. Google News’ vast collection of local and
national news stories across Mexico was a good fit.

The effort required us to identify the difference between the
number of homicides officially recorded and the news stories of
those killings on Google News. This required machine learning
algorithms that were able to identify the first reported story and
then pinpoint where the event took place. With that information, we
were able to connect reported events by media with the government’s
reports on homicides across more than 2400 municipalities in
Mexico.

El Universal 3D map

A map of unreported murders across Mexico that were identified
through El Universal’s project.  

Finally, to measure the degree of silence in each region of the
country, we created a formula that allows us to see the evolution
of this phenomenon over time. The resulting data
shows a fascinating mix of falls or peaks in unreported deaths,
which coincide with events such as the arrival of new governments
or the deaths of drug dealers. Further investigation will allow us
to explain these connections.

At El Universal, we’re committed to continue our search for
news deserts, to enhance the vitality of journalism in Mexico and
draw attention to how coverage varies according to the type of
crimes committed in each region, not just homicides.

This exercise is another reminder that in Mexico, as in many
other countries, we cannot take freedom of the press for
granted.

Source: FS – Social Media Blogs 2
Journalism and AI team up to measure missing stories