An Investigation that Ignited a Passion for Data Journalism

“Prior to my training with Internews, I had never worked with data because, quite honestly, I didn’t know how,” recounts Ovidio Sanic Larios, a radio journalist based in Guatemala. Ovidio has documented how residents of the Guatemalan border towns of Jutiapa, Jalapa, and his hometown of Chiquimula, must travel to El Salvador to receive medical attention. “To visit hospitals on both sides of the border was quite the experience. I never expected to see first-hand such an inconsistency in medical treatment.”

“My initial hypothesis was that the public health crisis in Guatemala and Honduras had increased the number of patients who travel to El Salvador to receive medical attention. After witnessing the vast number of Guatemalans receiving care in Salvadoran hospitals, I realized that I had enough cases to allow for an investigation devoted solely to my home country,” said Ovidio, with some relief.

With the help of his tutors Ana Carolina Alpírez and Sofia Menchú, Ovidio was able to expose some startling numbers. In the first quarter of 2017, 560 patients from Guatemala registered at the Salvadoran hospitals of San Juan de Dios Regional Hospital in Santa Ana and the Dr. Arturo Morales National General Hospital in Metapán to receive medical care.

A man stands under an awning outside a hospital.
Radio journalist Ovidio Sanic Larios investigated the public health crisis in Guatemala. Credit Internews

“My tutors checked in with me every week. They encouraged me through the drawn-out process of requesting previously unreleased information from the Salvadoran government,” acknowledged Ovidio with gratitude.

After four months of repetitively requesting information about the number of foreigners receiving medical assistance, the Salvadoran Health Ministry’s Public Information Office (Spanish: Oficina de Información y Respuesta del Ministerio de Salud de El Salvador) delivered some scanned copies of their records.

Once Ovidio finally received the data he required for his investigation, he encountered one immense challenge.

“When I left my job, I was devoid of the tools I required to analyze my data. It was not easy, but it was essential for me to be as forthright and impartial as possible during the entire investigation process; this was the biggest lesson I learned from Internews’ trainers. My goal was to allow everyone to verify my findings.”

Parts of Ovidio’s radio reports can be found in two posts on Facebook:

“I was so happy when I read the reactions to my work. It was wonderful to see people validate my findings on social media. I truly feel like this investigation ignited a passionate relationship with data journalism,” said Ovidio, who continues to work with Internews on an investigation into the effects of climate change in Guatemala.

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Internews’ work with Ovidio is part of the Promoting Journalism and Freedom of Expression program to support journalists and media outlets to develop and increase investigative and data journalism skills, with support from United States Agency for International Development.