A case study in data journalism

The European Hostage Project is a comprehensive database of cases from January 1, 2000 to March 31, 2015 in which Europeans were taken hostage by non-state groups outside of Europe. It covers the 28 European Union countries, plus Norway and Switzerland, and is the fruit of a months-long collaboration between Agence France Presse and 2nd-year graduate students at the Journalism School of the Institute Français de Presse.

To compile the database, AFP extracted every story in English and French since 2000 that had the keyword (or ‘slug’, in news media jargon) ‘hostage’ or ‘otage’, some 40,000 articles in all. From there, the Agency built and adapted a range of tools so that IFP’s journalists-in-training could sort and sift through them, dividing them by country and compiling detailed files for each hostage event and individual hostage. All this culled data was entered into another tool built especially for data-driven journalism projects by the French start-up Journalism++.

Investigative collaborations between top journalism schools and major media are well established in the US, and AFP is pleased to help pioneer such efforts in France. Both parties come out ahead: News organizations can mobilize a large number of motivated young journalists over a period of weeks or months, something they rarely can afford to do with their own reporters, while students get real-world experience under the supervision of seasoned professionals, and a published result.

We are particularly proud of this effort, which has uncovered patterns in the taking of hostages from Europe that up to now – even for veteran reporters covering the topic – have remained elusive or even invisible. A good example, then, of the power of data journalism.

Note on methodology

The data for this investigation comes almost entirely from published AFP articles, with additional information from official sources (e.g. the UN), and other major media (e.g. BBC). As a result, only hostage cases reported on by the media have been taken into account.

The scope of the investigation covers European Union nations along with Norway and Switzerland, a total of 30 countries.

The length of a hostage event runs from the date hostages were abducted to the date on which – in the case of multiple hostages – the last hostage was released or died. In cases where one of the hostages is still in captivity, or his or her status is unknown, the timeline representing the hostage event does not end in a dot but continues as a bar.

After five years without information, a hostage would be considered as presumed dead.

The points on the map represent the approximate locations where hostages were kidnapped or abducted.

The information available regarding hostage cases is difficult to obtain, and almost always partial. If you have information about a case involving a European citizen during the period covered (2000-2015) that is not listed here, or if you think that any information presented here is inaccurate, please let us know at the following address: contact@europeanhostages.com

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Source : AFP

Data design & input by IFP students: Pierre Adrian, Grégoire Belhoste, Romain Blanc, Robin Braquet, Déborah Coeffier, Claire De Roux, Simon Fontvieille, Angèle Guicharnaud, Brice Laemle, Maxime Lebufnoir, Florian Reynaud

Visualization by AFP Graphics Team: Jules Bonnard, Fred Bourgeais, Sarah Lepreux and Pablo Sinivassin

Concept : Marlowe Hood