Să fie lumină / Let there be light

Să fie lumină / Let there be light

Organisation: Dela0.ro (Romania)

Publication Date: 03/24/2018


Our project addresses a key issue to public accountability in Romania – that of the financial link between state and religious institutions. We want to visualize the flux of public money going out of state pockets to finance the country’s religious cults. And we want to put this flux into perspective, by providing tools to select and compare the gathered data. The actual outcome of our project will be an interactive map putting together all the data obtained through freedom of information requests. Romanian religious institutions receive budgetary allocations from central and local state offices, being provided - by law - with the means to repair their buildings and pay their servants. Despite receiving public money, churches act like private actors and never provide public information on how they use the money received. On the other hand, neither the state does a better job in tracking and evaluating these subsidies. There’s no singular Romanian institution that could be asked for this kind of public data. In order to have a clear view of the financial help that churches receive from state institutions you have to ask each and every administrative unit in the country if it provided any religious institution with public money. We already started this massive effort to gather data in the autumn of 2017, when the media platform www.safielumina.ro was launched. The fundamental objective of the platform is to foster public knowledge on how state-church relations function. Our mapping project aims to provide the online platform with a multimedia tool capable of sorting the enormous quantity of data, so the potential reader sees the amount of public money being put in religious institutions. As we gather the necessary data and place it in the database, the map will gradually light itself, county by county – a visual indicator of the fact that local authorities have provided the requested public information. Ideally, at the end of the journalistic effort the map will be fully lightened and the Romanian public will have the real dimension of what sums of public money are given by state institutions to religious actors (www.safielumina.ro is a crowdfunded media project that will publish features and investigations on state-churches relationship for the next two years). Given that this is a journalistic effort, the audience of the project should be the general public. But we know beforehand that most of our readers and followers are in the 25-40 age group, live in urban areas (mainly university cities), with their levels of income greater than the country’s median income. This means that our mapping effort should provide all the benefits of good UX design – because data journalism is first about accurately gathering the necessary numbers and second about putting them in a package that’s both easy to use and understandable. On the other hand, the map could serve other journalists that want to dig in deeper on the issue, but also policy makers.

Technologies used for this project:

For our prototype, we built a simple Node.js application that uses static data from a JSON file and a JavaScript library called d3.js to create an interactive map. We deployed it through Heroku and the source code is committed to GitHub. The next steps include adding more visualisation elements to the frontend, migrating the static data to a relational database, creating an admin interface to facilitate the adding of new data and developing a more complex search and filtering platform that will allow journalists and policy makers to get more details out of our data.
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