Making of | Confiscated Goods: what we did for making better our data journalism

This post is also avai­la­ble in: Italian

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook19Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn1Email this to someone

On September 5 we had a Publication Day in Italy for our inve­sti­ga­tion regar­ding goods Confiscated from the mafia: one natio­nal new­spa­per (L’Espresso) and eighteen glo­cal web­si­tes of the same publi­sher (Repubblica-L’Espresso) — see the map at the bot­tom — did put online our arti­cles for disco­ve­ring how many buil­dings and com­pa­nies are sei­zed, region by region, to whom did belon­ged, what the Government is doing for giving back them to Italian citi­zens. It was a big oppor­tu­nity and an ama­zing expe­rience for us of wor­king on the inve­sti­ga­tion, we star­ted our job at July.

See the full list of the 18 local chapters and L’Espresso!






Mafia, la mappa dei beni con­fi­scati: ma lo Stato non rie­sce a gestirli

Alto Adige


Beni con­fi­scati alle mafie, ecco la mappa open data regione per regione

La Nuova Ferrara


Ndrangheta e camorra si spar­ti­scono immo­bili e aziende Mappa inte­rat­tiva dei beni con­fi­scati in Emilia-Romagna

La Sentinella del Canavese


Beni con­fi­scati alla mafia, Torino seconda in Italia solo a Palermo

Il Tirreno


Dal fac­cen­diere di Riina alle truffe sulle aste. I casa­lesi tra Firenze e Versilia: mappa dei beni con­fi­scati

Gazzetta di Mantova


Beni con­fi­scati alle mafie, ecco la mappa open data regione per regione

Gazzetta di Modena


Ndrangheta e camorra si spar­ti­scono immo­bili e aziende Mappa inte­rat­tiva dei beni con­fi­scati in Emilia-Romagna

Mattino di Padova


Mafia in Veneto: la mappa dei beni con­fi­scati

La Provincia Pavese


Migliaia di beni con­fi­scati, Lombardia come Sicilia e Campania

Il Centro


I beni con­fi­scati in Abruzzo tra camorra e banda della Magliana

La Gazzetta di Reggio


Ndrangheta e camorra si spar­ti­scono immo­bili e aziende

La Città di Salerno


Ville, ter­reni, castelli: i beni con­fi­scati nella terra di Gomorra

La Nuova Sardegna


I beni con­fi­scati tra cor­leo­nesi, camorra e banda Mesina

Trentino Corriere Alpi


Mafie, sono 16 i beni con­fi­scati in Trentino

La Tribuna di Treviso


Beni con­fi­scati alla Mafia La mappa nel Veneto

Il Piccolo


I beni con­fi­scati alle mafie in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Messaggero Veneto

Friuli Venezia Giulia

I beni con­fi­scati alle mafie che stanno occu­pando il Friuli

La Nuova Venezia


Mafia in Veneto: la mappa dei beni con­fi­scati

Corriere delle Alpi


La mappa delle con­fi­sche tra mafia, camorra e Mala del Brenta 

Meanwhile a very inte­re­sting blog­post writ­ten by Alberto Cairo was publi­shed from Niemanlab, titled “Data Journalism needs to up its own stan­dards”, tal­king about over-pro­mi­ses from FiveThirtyEight and Vox​.com data pro­jects who should need “treat their data with more scien­ti­fic rigor” — Cairo says. For these and for other exam­ples that he quo­ted, you may find — IMHO — a lot of inte­re­sting sug­ge­stions, expe­cially if you’re doing jour­na­lism with data, as issues and doubts we meet every day on our job into Dataninja’s pipe­line. Until now data jour­na­lism — as I saw — was deve­lo­ped as descrip­tive sta­ti­stics, data visua­li­za­tions, pre­dic­tive ana­ly­sis, spe­cial effects on the web (“Wow!-Effect” — say some friends of mine — or “map-itis” for tal­king about peo­ple who pub­blish maps every minu­tes but without news).

So I’d share what we did for the pro­ject “Confiscati Bene” (lit., “Well Confiscated” — here the about page), aiming of having back sug­ge­stions for under­stan­ding what we well done and what we needs to up.

First step — From meeting the Open Data project “Confiscati Bene” to working inside

The Openess world gave me a big oppor­tu­nity of refac­to­ring my skills and some years ago I joi­ned the “Spaghetti Open Data” Italian Community. At March 2014 we had an mee­ting in whom — during a hac­ka­thon — was deve­lo­ped a first ver­sion of “Confiscati Bene”, an indi­pen­dent pro­ject powe­red by citi­zens who aims to open the data regar­ding goods sei­zed from the Mafia: first of all, they scra­ped data from offi­cial web­site of the Agency who have a data­base of con­fi­sca­ted goods. What a big oppor­tu­nity! Not only of tel­ling the data, but for try­ing to improve the pro­ject with our jour­na­li­stic and data skills for gro­wing it bet­ter and more quic­kly (as pos­si­ble). We joi­ned the team and we hel­ped for buil­ding an online plat­form with a data cata­log regar­ding mafia assets that needs to be upda­ted. Walking this way we lear­ned a lot about con­fi­sca­ted goods (by rea­ding of Acts from Parliament and by disco­ve­ring reports and docu­ments): team mem­bers shared each one of these docu­ments into the Mailing List of the pro­ject. The que­stion is: how long I would have to spend for fin­ding these resour­ces, instead of having it and rea­ding thank to the team, that shared it quic­kly? How much peo­ple could help us (as jour­na­lists) for doing bet­ter our job, if only we gave them the oppor­tu­nity? Do it toge­ther — and not only with jour­na­lists — should be bet­ter.

Second Step — From starting the investigation to pubblishing on 19 newspaper and disseminating on the web

In the end of July we’ve star­ted our inve­sti­ga­tion and built a team of three jour­na­lists (Andrea Nelson Mauro — it’s me! 😉 — Alessio Cimarelli and Gianluca De Martino). We did read some­thing like 3,000 pages of docu­ments and reports of insti­tu­tions and obser­va­to­ries, for bet­ter under­stan­ding the data (even we are not domain experts). By Matching results and sug­ge­stions, we made a kind of “con­tent cura­tion” from the docu­ments, extrac­ting the most jour­na­li­stic issues (for us): for instance we disco­ve­red that Italian Government (with EU) have fun­ded 6Mln of euros to the Public Agency of con­fi­sca­ted goods for buil­ding a big data­base for col­lec­ting these data, but no one did nothing, no one knows where money went, no one saw the pro­ject.

Regarding skills and acti­vi­ties deve­lo­ped:

  • Data (and sto­ries) mining — It was a big chap­ter of the inve­sti­ga­tion: we did it on offi­cial docu­ments and also on the web for poin­ting out the mat­ching results and sta­ti­stic with data scra­ped from Public Agency of Confiscated Goods. Sometimes you needs to be picky for under­stan­ding in which step the good is (sei­zed, con­fi­sca­ted, free­zed by law acts, assi­gned to some NGOs)
  • Coding and Geo Issues — For sho­wing con­fi­sca­ted goods on a map, we’ve nee­ded of deve­lo­ping a visua­li­za­tion tool: it was made by Alessio Cimarelli, using only open­source tools (Leaflet, D3js, OSM Nominatim and others). Data are sho­wed on the Italian regions by abso­lute values and not nor­ma­li­zed by popu­la­tion or by other dimen­sion, because we aimed to draft a kind of raw over­view: where the Mafia spent the money, what are the dif­fe­rence bet­ween big cities and small towns, for instance by mat­ching the North and the South.
  • Content Curation — We thin­ked that every con­fi­sca­tion should already told by every new­spa­per, as well. Starting from this idea, we’ve poin­ted out and aggre­ga­ted all of sin­gle sto­ries by each regions and from the new­spa­per archi­ves, and regar­ding the most impor­tant boss to whom goods are con­fi­sca­ted. Walking down this way (and after mat­ching results with quan­ti­ta­tive data) you may draw an over­view by kind of mafia (e.g., Mafia, Camorra, Ndrangheta), sho­wing a kind of distri­bu­tion by regions.
  • The Review Process — Working in team is very hel­p­ful for poin­ting out mista­kes, but the bet­ter way in my honest opi­nion it was of sha­ring the drafts of the arti­cles with other mem­bers of the pro­ject (as usually it does with books of resear­ches).

Third Step — Looking Forward, we’re doing Database Journalism

After we’ve pub­bli­shed, we’re giving back data to ConfiscatiBene, by uploa­ding in a data cata­log deve­lo­ped with DKAN (a Drupal cms like CKAN, powe­red for us by Twinbit). We’re into the team of the pro­ject, so we’re inte­re­sted for impro­ving it, col­lec­ting other data and deve­lo­ping other chap­ters (for instance in Europe). With the pub­bli­ca­tion on 19 new­spa­pers, we’ve made even a kind of dis­se­mi­na­tion of the pro­ject “Confiscati Bene” and not only of the news extrac­ted from data, and we’re kee­ping (and will keep) update data. I don’t know where we’ll arrive but I know we’re wal­king and try­ing of making bet­ter, and maybe you will hear yet about Confiscati Bene.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook19Share on Google+0Share on LinkedIn1Email this to someone

Andrea Nelson Mauro

Data journalist at
Andrea Nelson Mauro, data jour­na­list. Vincitore dei Data Journalism Awards e dell'European Press Prize. For­mato nella cro­naca locale, fondatore di,, Collabora con gruppi editoriali in Italia e all'estero, agenzie di data journalism in Europa, NGOs e Pubbliche Amministrazioni italiane. Folk della com­mu­nity e