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El Confidencial

Making the truth easier to find

Digital newspaper El Confidencial develops a research tool to help journalists find, visualize, and analyze online information — and write better stories.
Copy of EC_Equipo Ramon Pintado-15

Researching stories online

Madrid-based El Confidencial is a digital native newspaper that has earned a reputation for independent, investigative journalism. Since 2001, the publication has engaged readers with news stories covering politics, finance, the economy, and society, as well as Spain’s leaders and other newsmakers. In 2023, they were named a runner-up for a European Press Prize for innovation for an interactive story on the history of Madrid’s wealthy Salamanca neighborhood.

“Defending the right of citizens to know the truth” is at the heart of their mission.

Researching stories online, however, can be a daunting task for hard-working journalists. With so much information posted by media outlets and other sources, finding accurate and relevant information can be time consuming and frustrating.

“The [key] to our success is our focus on journalism,” says Chief Data Officer Ramón Pintado. “Journalists need official sources to do the job. With the different kinds of sources — [websites], social networks, video, audio, and text — and the volume of information out there, it’s difficult to evaluate the veracity [of them] and do a good job.”

Developing a powerful search tool

El Confidencial had previously partnered with Google as an early adopter of many technologies, including Subscribe with Google (which helped them grow to 45,000 subscribers). El Confidencial decided to partner with Google once again on this new project to assist journalists in their research.

In 2021, El Confidencial began collaborating with the Google News Initiative (GNI) to develop a search tool for journalists to make the online research process more efficient, manageable, and reliable. Google provided financial and technical support to develop this research tool, code-named “Alejandria.” GNI provided tech support across all phases of development, from conceptualizing the tool’s user interface and functions to best suit journalists’ research needs, through working with Elasticsearch open-source search and data analytics engine, to meeting all project benchmarks. The tool is currently being tested at El Confidencial, with plans for a newsroom-wide launch in September 2023.

“Working with the GNI team was really easy,” says El Confidencial Lead Data Engineer Ana Belén Mejía. “From the beginning, we defined different phases of the project and the milestones that we should achieve. The final tool and interface provide a really good user experience.”

We developed a platform that allows journalists to search and analyze [large] volumes of information from trusted sources, adding insights to their stories. Support from Google made it possible.
Ramón Pintado
Chief Data Officer, El Confidencial

Helping journalists find the right information

Alejandria focuses on searches for information published by other official media and government sources, as well as subjects covered in the vast El Confidencial news archives. The tool uses natural language processing methods to handle journalists’ search requests (for example, “King of Spain Felipe VI” or “elections”), then analyzes, classifies, and quantifies the information.

Alejandria’s user interface displays search results by author, date, media source, and article title, along with related topics (revealing other possible story angles). It also presents charts and graphs to give journalists an overview of the data, allowing them to better visualize how topics have been historically covered — and where their stories may break new ground.

By making the research and fact-checking process more automated and efficient, El Confidential plans to publish a greater volume of high-quality, engaging content. They believe better stories will increase user engagement and help the newspaper grow. Within 12 months of releasing Alejandria, they expect a 10-percent increase in subscriber page views, a 5-percent increase in unique users, and a 15-percent increase in opinion articles.

  • 45K subscribers (expecting 10% more pageviews)
  • 25M unique monthly users (expecting 5% growth)
  • 200 news professionals poised to use new tool

Sharing the tool with other journalists

El Confidencial envisions other uses for the Alejandria tool, such as assisting human resources in its search for qualified talent. Explains Pintado, “If we need to hire journalists who write about [a particular] topic, for example, electric cars, you can discover a full list of authors and make them an offer.”

The publisher also plans to develop a user access system to give other journalists and publishers access to the Alejandria tool via an open-source repository.

“With digital journalism, you need to be a good journalist, but you also have to have some technical skills,” Pintado says. “This platform gives journalists the tools to go further, faster, and dig deeper in their research using the topics’ relationships. The more information, the more possibilities to do better journalism. Without the [Google News Initiative], we would never have developed this project.”

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