ViaPaís uses data journalism to report on changing local prices of common items

By Julieta Rico

ViaPaís

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The cost of living in Argentina increased 36% during 2020. Every month, every year, the rise in prices is greater than the increase in salaries, which increased 20% in the same period.

Ten months after the arrival of the COVID-19 in the country, the pandemic had severely impacted the national and world economy. The consequences of inflation can be felt in Argentina.

What is inflation? It is the generalised and sustained increase in the market prices of goods and services that causes a loss in the value of money. Inflation is measured over a period of time; in this case, we refer to the variations occurred in the last 12 months.

Consumer prices have been increasing in Argentina for several months.
Consumer prices have been increasing in Argentina for several months.

These increases occur month-by-month and impact consumption and citizens’ quality of life. This affects regional and national economies. That is why at ViaPaís we developed a method of monthly and periodic control to detect abrupt peaks that may occur. This generates content of interest to our readers.

Survey of prices

With that in mind, in August at ViaPaís, we began carrying out a survey of prices in the 23 provincial capitals and in the main cities’ supermarkets. We wanted to obtain evidence of the dispersion of prices depending on where products were purchased. We also wanted to detect significant increases or decreases in any of the 45 products included on our list.

When we planned this list, we considered incorporating products for daily use or consumption in Argentine homes. These items are divided into five areas: packaged goods, meat, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and hygiene and cleaning.

The survey was carried out the last Wednesday of every month in each place to obtain direct and diverse information. We processed prices for the purpose of generating news of interest to the public, since the price increase (which is much higher than salaries) is a daily concern in our society.

Nearly 40 journalists from all over the country participate in the initiative. Having a register of this type, where month after month the increases are noticed, allows us as a news media to have parameters to measure differences. It also indicates possible triggers that directly influence the daily lives of our readers.

A clear example was the sudden increase in the price of tomatoes in September: The increase from one month to the next was 174%, and the difference between the supermarkets in the provinces reached US$2.32 for a kilogram of this product.

By detecting this abrupt increase, in a matter of minutes, we were able to solve the issue with our own data, based on federal information and not only from the Buenos Aires City and nearby areas. At the same time, we asked our specialists in the rural sector to prepare an article explaining the reasons why the agricultural conditions for such an increase occurred.

Our methodology

Our survey follows our own methodology. It is not comparable to an organisation specialised in measuring prices. Our methodology aims to analyse the evolution of costs on the supermarket shelves throughout the country each month. Although it is true that this is not the only measurement of this type (the National Institute of Statistics and Census of the Government carries out one called “basic basket”), we found it is beneficial to carry out our own measurement because it increases the relationship of trust with our readers.

The journalists from each newsroom that makes up ViaPaís are responsible for collecting the data directly from the stores. These are always of the same products where promotional prices are not considered.

Once all the data has been collected, it is processed to detect triggers that help to analyse different variations either by price increases each month or by a substantial increase in the difference between the store shelves of each city.

Data journalism demands time both for processing and the elaboration of content based on it. For this reason, some newsrooms leave it aside because they do not have the time and/or journalists to carry it out. But at ViaPaís, we see it as a possibility to generate different content of interest for the whole country by having a presence in each province.

That is why to go to the supermarkets, fill in the data, dive into the obtained numbers, and prepare notes for our media. It is not a waste of time, but rather an investment in the generation of diverse and exclusive content and material.

About Julieta Rico

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