Alexandre Léchenet: Data-Journalism is a proof cross-verified with other proofs!

In the Era of Data – Journalism and Fact checking which are tools for investigative Journalism to make the report more accurate many problematics appears while doing our job. Having a huge database is not an easy work and it doesn’t come with doing a dictation for one source or another, No it’s not the case of real journalism. When we talk about Real investigative journalism, we may face Real problems like drying sources, isolating a Journalist while putting him under economical stress, close the journalists out of networks, creating problems for him.

launching an investigation is scary, what about collecting data even if it is as a project manager? How would one work to overcome the risk management plan in that case?

What are the most used tools to protect the private records from official government and keep the access of info of the journalists?

Alexandre Léchenet  will answer our questions.


Rita Boulos Chahwan


Who is he?


has been a computer assisted reporter at Le Monde in Paris since 2011 and is currently a journalist fellow at Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism for Michaelmas term 2014. Alexandre is part of « Les Décodeurs », a Le Monde web based team of journalists focusing on fact-checking, stock journalism and data journalism. In the team, he mainly uses data to portray the news.

As a computer assisted investigator, he uses computers and the Internet to help investigation. Working on a variety of topics from web scraping doctor’s fare to uncovering police bonuses. He is also working on cross-border investigations like OffshoreLeaks. After studying computer science in Université Pierre et Marie Curie and Université Paris 8, Alexandre joined a web-agency, La Netscouade, for two years. He did social media management and social media monitoring and worked on several projects, this included aggregating tweets from journalists and politics or producing Twitter map’s.

Then, Alexandre joined OWNI in 2011. OWNI is a pure-player focused on web culture and data-journalism and was partner with Wikileaks. He was their data-journalist and project manager.Alexandre has been teaching, mainly in Bordeaux journalism school IJBA since 2012 and is the co-host of Hacks/Hackers meetups in Paris. He also participates in « Nichons-nous dans l’Internet », a magazine about Internet culture and art.



In the global context, a movement of data journalism appears from Wikileaks to Panama, is this kind of journalism considered as investigation proofs?  

Data-journalism is a tool. It can be a tool for investigation but also a tool for service, providing, for example, a guide to best school for parents. And because it’s a journalistic tool, it cannot be in itself considered as a proof unless it is cross-verified with other proofs.

But of course, databases are a great way to find new information. There are more and more of them and they are very easy to leak or build.


How does the collaboration between journalists across countries make the story clearer?

With globalization, businesses, crime, etc., are made across countries. So it’s logical that the investigation should be across countries. And because of the complementarity of laws, languages, etc., that can only make the story better. When journalists worked on migrants’ files, the presence of journalists from Greece or Italy helped find new reports or go on the ground.

And the collaboration is also great when everything is published at the same time, in different countries; it creates a wave.


What is the technical difference between fact checking and Data Journalism? Can we do the second without the first ?

Fact checking can be done without data-journalism because in its current acceptation it’s only verifying the speeches of politicians and that doesn’t specially need databases.


Do we have specialties of a fact checker in journalism like specialized in politics or economics ?

I think it’s rather a tool than a specialty.


In the Age of Freedom of information , there is some restriction in some countries to get access to info like drying sources of information, preventing journalists from building database, etc. How can an investigative journalist build up a plan for himself to over come these difficulties in order to build his story?

There are plenty of solutions, from finding a good source in the administration to building databases from open sources.


Some Journalists do not agree on Data Journalism and consider it’s just kind of analysis with no sense, saying that there is no value for the result in court. How do you answer these ideas?

If we use it as a tool, we have other sources to validate the findings. When BuzzFeed calculated the chance that some tennis games are fixed, they didn’t publish the names because no one would confirm. But they had mathematical evidences that games were fixed.


What is the concrete difference between social science applied on journalism and Data Journalism?

The second derives from the first. I’m not sure there’s differences as it’s not well defined and no one has the same definitions.


Who is concerned to give the meaning of the data? Is it the journalist or is the journalist is just a collector of info?

It can be both, journalist can work with specialist, whether statisticians or developers, to give meaning to the data.


What is the difference between the Government collecting data and the journalist doing so?

Often, governments gather data for a statistical purpose, or as a side project of something.


When it is a collaborative work, what would be an added value for the work?

Why do some have concerns on analysis? Is it nonsense journalism? if so what is demanded more?

If a source gives you access to a huge database, what is the first thought? What would one be doing with this database ?


The first thought would be about accessibility, how can we make it available and usable to all the people working on the database (with the security it needs). After, depending on the database, it would be interesting to cross it with other databases. And then, to find broad statistics.




About Rita Chahwan

ريتا بولس شهوان، صحافية وباحثة صدر لها عدد من الكتب منها "الكويت وإرادة الاستقلال في الوثائق العثمانية" و "ماذا فعل مدحت باشا في الخليج"(ذات السلاسل) وعملت في عدد من الصحف والمواقع الالكترونية العربية. تلقت تدريبات دولية على الاستقصاء وتخصصت في الاستقصاء الاجتماعي – الاقتصادي كما تولي اهمية كبيرة للشأن السياسي.

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