Venezuela Decoded: A high-fidelity medium to follow Venezuela’s crisis

Venezuela Decoded is a single-topic medium that offers comprehensive coverage of Venezuela's conflict in real time. By combining journalism, social media and technology, we add context and background to dynamic content from reliable social media sources to serve international audiences.

Photo of Mary Aviles
9 26

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Since Venezuela's latest conflict began in February 2014, many facts have not been covered by television channels (e.g., the massive protest against the government in support of the students on Feb. 12, where three people were killed, or the incarceration of one of the opposition leaders, Leopoldo Lopez, after another massive protest on Feb. 18, for example).

In the absence of impartial accounts one can still extract meaning from divergent voices by allowing them to co-exist together in a single interface. Our journalistic task in this case has not been to verify the facts, but to clearly represent the relevant actors and their motivating affiliations.

On Feb. 12, the government censored the signal of the Colombian channel NTN24, the only TV network that was transmitting news of the protests in the country. At least 14 newspapers have had to reduce the number of pages in daily editions because the government refuses to sell them the currency they need to buy printing paper. Ten smaller papers have already closed. Radio has been self-censoring its contents in order to survive.

A lot of information is either missing or cannot find an outlet, except on social media. Venezuela has the fourth-highest Twitter penetration rate in the world, according to a study by PeerReach. In this actual crisis, the only way for Venezuelans to be informed has been through Twitter, but this tool, in addition to being temporarily censored by the government, has also been used to misinform, confuse the public, and alter facts about daily events. 

However, every day, hundreds of videos, photos, and statements published on different social media platforms have served as testimony of the killings, repression and violence. The Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts of journalists, responsible citizens, and NGOs have filled the void left by traditional media, which has been silenced. 

There is a need for tools to filter and analyze these streams to make the vast volumes of data comprehensible and digestible for the news consumer.

That is why we have started the Venezuela Decoded project, to create a stream that selects Twitter users from different groups and guarantees a fair representation of the different voices of the conflict.

We determined these users by interviewing Venezuelan journalists, and they gave us their lists of credible sources discussing the conflict. We sorted the sources into four groups: Government, Opposition, Spanish and English sources. In the first two, we included the most representative speakers of each side.  And in the last two, we combined NGO, journalists, bloggers and responsible citizens.

The social media aspect of our project combined with journalistic rigor ensures reliable information.

Lastly, we created a customized feed using Twitter’s API to create the four lists. We also used another open-source tool, TimelineJS, to build a visual timeline that provides background to the Twitter feeds.

In the technical part, we mix an automatic and curated news feed with the background and historic elements of the timeline.

Toward the bottom of the page, we developed a section for international audiences. By using crowdsourcing, open-source tools and traditional journalistic tools, we strive to be a signal in the noise of the Venezuela conflict and contribute with our experience among other single-topic platforms. 

In ONE sentence, tell us about your project to strengthen the Internet for free expression and innovation.

Venezuela Decoded combines journalism, technology and social media in one medium to leverage the free expression of the Internet and break the censorship and self-censorship in Venezuela by embracing the most unbiased media available: Twitter.

Who will benefit from what you propose? What have you observed that makes you think that?

1. International audience (Spanish and English) interested in having a better understanding of the Venezuelan conflict.
 2. Journalist and media outlets in Venezuela and other countries.
3. We would like to establish a methodology that applies to covering any type of ongoing news. We think the structure of our project could help journalistic media and work with other social media and is applicable to other social media, like YouTube, Pinterest or Facebook.
We have done daily research on how the Venezuela crisis has been covered in local and international media, and we have documented that there is a lack of context. We have talked to journalists in the Bay Area (most of them related to Stanford University), and they have been asking for information that helps them understand what is happening and why. The decoded model has diverse potential uses. A former ESPN journalist said a site like Venezuela Decoded could be useful for a sporting event like the Super Bowl. Also Latin American journalists are interested in developing a decoded site for Brazil's coming elections.

What progress have you made so far?

We have our site: On the site, users can find customized Twitter timelines with four lists: Government, Opposition, Spanish and English sources. They represent the different voices involved in the conflict.
A current timeline built with the open-source tool TimelineJS explains the main developments in the conflict. We also plan to add maps and a who's who section.
We are working on the filter processing and exploring different storytelling methods with social media data.

What would be a successful outcome for your idea or project?

1. Integrate dynamic real-time content and context about Venezuela's crisis in one site.
2. Become a regular source and reference guide on Venezuela conflict information for NGOs, advocacy groups and international news outlets.
3. Create a simple methodology of decoding that journalists can use to create single topic sites and explain different events.

Who is on your team, and what are their relevant experiences or skills?

Venezuela Decoded is led by three Venezuelan journalists, a systems architect and a user experience designer who are working on new media.

Mary Aviles. Journalist originally from Venezuela, now an aspiring media entrepreneur. She has more than a decade of experience covering Latino issues in the U.S. and was a 2013 Knight Fellow at Stanford.

Douglas Gómez-Barrueta. Venezuelan journalist. He worked for Unión Radio and Venezuelan newspapers El Nacional, Meridiano y Tal Cual. He is the author of "Talla de Agua" (2013).

Martín Quiroga. Systems architect, current Knight Fellow, where he is developing a content-ranking platform that delivers highly relevant, personalized news content based on an algorithmic notion of authority.

Ana Carrano. Venezuelan journalist and book editor. Knight Fellow at Stanford creating a website that uses journalistic audio to improve transparency. She has coordinated several innovative projects, including the first apps for iOS and Android tablets developed by a Venezuelan newspaper.

Martha Olmos. UX/product designer. She has lived in Berlin since 2010, where she is attending the University of Arts and working on a master’s in leadership for digital communications. Her thesis focuses on the representation and relevance of information in new media.


Palo Alto, California, USA
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Attachments (2)

Venezuela Decoded to find 'signal in the noise' of conflict | Media news.pdf

Venezuela Decoded featured in Journalism News

JSK team launches Venezuela Decoded to help make sense of conflicting accounts | JSK.pdf

An article about Venezuela Decoded published by John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford


Join the conversation:

Photo of Guaritoto

Hola Mary Aviles,

Aquí te dejo una invitación para que visites nuestro site, es el aporte de un grupo de venezolanos en el exterior, creo que podríamos ser útiles o unir esfuerzos. InfoVnzla es una red de credibilidad y noticias responsables de la situación actual de Venezuela. Activismo de unión. Los invitamos a compartir los artículos que publicamos en varios idiomas cuya autenticidad ha sido cuidadosamente comprobada por un equipo de redactores y comunicadores sociales venezolanos que no favorecen a ningún partido político. Ofrecemos información veraz con el fin de facilitar la construcción de opiniones debidamente informadas.

Photo of Mary

Gracias Guaritoto, voy a chequearlo con el equipo. Por lo pronto nos estamos concentrando en la data proveniente de Twitter, no en la curaduría de artículos, aunque hemos pensado en ello para hacer en el futuro.

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