'Teens from rough neighbourhoods don't have press reps'

11 March 2014


Covering the 'banlieue' with social media and big data

Just back from a stint at the Columbia Journalism School, GEN caught up with Parisian journalist David Dieudonné. He was just appointed this week as Deputy Bureau Chief in Marseille, but he previously managed a group of journalists covering the rough suburbs of Paris. He shared with us his views on how social networks and data are essential for reporting in this context.

Covering 'banlieues' of Paris is not easy. As he started exploring these areas, David realised that coverage from traditional media could be greatly improved. He led an AFP experiment to transform reporting on the banlieue, a politically charged topic in France, especially following 2005 riots.


As David was putting new practices in place, social networks appeared as a new tool to help journalists do their job. Knowing how to manage user-generated content became a skill because 'you can diversify your sources', according to David. At first he and his team used mostly keywords to find out who was on the scene of a story: 'It is a way to get more contacts'. But as mobile usage grew, GPS is now thought to be more useful and accurate.

Social networks, he notes, allow journalists to manage and contact different groups of people and facilitate on-the-scene interviews: 'We use Twitter as an alert system, and then we do our job as an agency'.


Twitter is also a source of new information and new stories to cover, like the story of Rachid Santaki, a French writer from Saint-Ouen. David is still surprised by how teens from the banlieues have adopted Twitter as 'their' social network, to talk about their neighbourhood.

Open source and stats

Social networks are not the only tools that can be useful. Data-driven research is a new way for journalists to analyse what is going on in different neighbourhoods: 'These areas are measured constantly by statistics', David notes. He would like to include statisticians into the conversation with journalists. He observed this during his time abroad in the U.S.: 'I met a journalist in charge of campaign finances at The New York Times, and he explained to me that he was working with someone able to draw stories from series of numbers'.

The French reporter says he was also impressed by the website EveryBlock in Chicago. This site features public reports as well as crowdsourced content on localised areas. Another discovery for him was Homicide Watch, a 'community-driven reporting project covering every murder in the District of Columbia'. David would like to see more of this type of reporting in Paris and the surrounding areas, but he believes that data may not be as accessible in France as it is in the States.

[Want to know more about data-journalism, join us in Barcelona for the GEN Summit. This year's theme is 'Mobile. Video. Data.']

All these experiences will be useful as he will take up his new job in Marseille – a city in the south of France where these issues are brought up on a regular basis. David Dieudonné sees it as the perfect setting to experiment further on how innovation could help in his coverage.

Watch David's TedxTalk at Columbia: 'Using New Media in Disenfranchised Neighborhoods'