The End of Semester = More Time to Write…

It has been a while since I wrote a post. Trying to balance writing with my teaching and administrative duties is always difficult and it becomes even more trying at the end of the semester.

For the last weeks, I have been reflecting on Puerto Rico’s political and economic future after Maria. Many of my thoughts have been shaped to my reactions to a few recent pieces in the NY Times and Politico, a Frontline documentary, Congressional hearings, and few media interviews with Governor Rosselló.

So the P.R. Data Lab will continue for a few more months. My goal is not to only share my opinions about Puerto Rico post Maria, but to also share some of research findings. As I noted in earlier posts, I am writing a piece on the politics of electricity restoration in the island, which I will be presenting at the Puerto Rican Studies Association conference in November 2018.

I expect to share two posts later this week and I hope to continue sharing two posts per week for the rest of the summer.


Reflections on the “March for Our Lives”: Data on Gun Violence in Puerto Rico and the United States

This weekend’s “March for our Lives” or la “Marcha Por Nuestras Vidas” got me thinking about gun violence not only in Puerto Rico and the United States (U.S.), but all over the world. So, I downloaded the most recent Small Arms Survey (SAS) dataset. The most recent figures are for 2016.

The SAS collects data on all violent deaths and subsets these observations along the following clusters: (1) count of intentional homicides; (2) deaths connected to ongoing conflicts (i.e. wars or civil wars); (3) the count of non-conflict, violent deaths caused by firearms; and (4) the count of lethal violence against women.

For this post, I am interested in the rate of violent deaths per 100,000 individuals caused by firearms. Thus, my analysis does not take into considerations states that have ongoing civil wars.

Here are three interesting charts. First which region of the world has the most gun-related violent deaths?

chart (24)While I am not surprised that the Americas is the deadliest region of the world, I am surprised by the fact that 78% of all firearms-related deaths have been committed in this part of the world.

Which are the most violent subregions in the Americas?

chart (23)

The rate of violent deaths per 100,000 caused by firearms in the United States for 2016 is 3.1 or a total of 10,417 violent deaths. In contrast, Puerto Rico’s rate stands at 15, which 550 violent deaths. Puerto Rico’s numbers are quite high. In 2016, it ranked as the 15th jurisdiction with the highest firearms-related death in the world.


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While these figures are not very encouraging, it is important to note that the numbers of all violent deaths (i.e. caused by firearms or other instruments) in Puerto Rico has declined over the past 5 years.

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The question is whether these trends will be reversed. After all, the number of reported violent deaths has increased in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

Although these are pretty depressing statistics, I hope that public awareness will help politicians and law enforcement personnel in the United States and Puerto Rico enact new laws and policies to curb gun violence. Was the “March on Our Lives” a new chapter in this struggle? Only time will tell…

Do Crowds Know Best? Some Reflections on CBS Correspondent David Begnaud’s Experiment in Crowdsourcing Journalism on Puerto Rico #6MonthsAfterMaria

One area of research that has fascinated me for the longest time is whether or not crowds’ responses to a particular question are correct. This is an issue that has been widely debated in academic circles. And the literature on this subject is far from conclusive.

While experiments in crowdsourcing are not always successful, thanks to the growing influence of social media, journalists have used these experiments to great effect. In 2015, Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism released its Guide to Crowdsourcing, highlighting different reasons why so many news organizations have adopted these techniques. One of the report’s main takeaways is that when done right crowdsourcing empowers “people to share what they know individually so that journalists can communicate the collective information” (p. 14).

Journalists who are willing to use these techniques recognize the limits of their own knowledge. Thus their “call-outs” are designed to help them get a deeper-understanding of their news stories and hence improve the quality of their reporting. Crowdsourcing journalism changes the dynamics between the journalist and readers, giving readers an opportunity to shape how media organizations cover a particular event.

A good example of crowdsourcing journalism is CBS News Correspondent David Begnaud’s March 16, 2018 “call-out” to his social media followers for suggestions on issues to cover and places to visit in Puerto Rico six months after Hurricane Maria. His reports echoed his followers’ suggestions, as he noted in a video he recorded at the end of his trip to the island. For more information on Begnaud’s methods, read my earlier post.

Begnaud’s crowdsourcing experiment gives us an opportunity to test how knowledgeable the respondents are about Puerto Rico’s challenges post-Maria.

As I noted in an earlier post, using Pablo Barbera’s rFacebook package for R, I downloaded 2,658 responses to Begnaud’s “call-out” for information in Facebook. I utilized Julia Silge’s and David Robinson’s Tidytext package to tokenize the responses, to remove stopwords (i.e. prepositions) and to put together a corpus we can analyze. Begnaud’s followers encouraged him to visit Yabucoa, Humacao, Utuado and other towns in the southeast as well as in the mountains.

Any person following Puerto Rico’s post-Maria recovery knows that one of the top news stories is the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) troubles repairing the island’s electric grid. The lack of electricity serves as a good proxy to the many problems that have affected Puerto Ricans since September 20, 2017: lack of access to reliable healthcare, traffic lights not working, troubles with the distribution of potable water, access to banking services and so forth. And Begnaud’s followers identified electricity as the top issue of concern.

My corpus included over 30,000 words and his followers’ references to electricity represent 4% of this total – a really high number! The main words associated with the electric’s grid repair are included in the following pie chart.

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How much do Begnaud’s followers know about Puerto Rico’s challenges  post-Maria? As noted above, any person who has paid attention to the island’s struggles would have encouraged Begnaud to cover how the lack of electricity has affected Puerto Ricans’ lives. Thus, this piece of “collective information” by itself is not too interesting. But combining these data points with the towns Begnaud followers’ encouraged him to visit demonstrates that most of his followers do have a deep understanding of the island’s post-Maria struggles.

As detailed in the next table, PREPA groups the island’s 78 municipalities into seven administrative regions. The figure in the last column aggregates the municipalities mentioned by Begnaud’s followers. For example, PREPA’s San Juan Region aggregates all the times San Juan, Guaynabo, or Trujillo Alto were mentioned in the responses, which was 107 times.

PREPA Region Number of Meters Percent of Meters Number of Municipalities Per Region Sum of Municipalities Mentioned By Begnaud’s Followers By Region
Arecibo 153,407 10.4% 12 519
Bayamón 226,041 15.4% 8 127
Caguas 214,396 14.6% 17 1,288
Carolina 133,861 9.1% 9 226
Mayagüez 229,290 15.6% 15 200
Ponce 207,784 14.1% 14 207
San Juan 308,227 20.9% 3 107
TOTAL 1,473,007 100% 78 2,674

For the last two months, the USACE has been publishing the percentage of meters connected to the electric grid in each of PREPA’s regions. The biggest challenge has been reconnecting the meters in the Caguas Region followed by the Arecibo Region, as demonstrated in the graph below.

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If we only look at the municipalities that were mentioned 20 times or more, then we can appreciate how informed Begnaud’s followers are. Note that those who responded to his “call-out” mentioned 15 out of the 17 municipalities located in the PREPA’s Caguas Region.

PREPA Region Number of Municipalities Per Region Number of Municipalities with 20 Mentions or More
Percentage of Top Municipalities Mentioned
Arecibo 12 7 58%
Bayamón 8 3 38%
Caguas 17 15 88%
Carolina 9 2 22%
Mayagüez 15 4 27%
Ponce 14 4 29%
San Juan 3 1 33%
TOTAL 78 36 46%

What can we learn from this analysis? First, it was a very good idea for Begnaud to crowdsource information from his Facebook and Twitter followers regarding his trip to Puerto Rico.

Second, Begnaud’s experiment in crowdsourcing was successful because his reporting has been closely followed by Puerto Ricans both in the island and in the mainland. As I noted in two earlier posts (here and here), Begnaud’s social media audience started to rapidly grow when he was in Puerto Rico reporting on the humanitarian catastrophe that ensued after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Thus, many of the followers that responded to his “call-out” probably had some type of personal connection to the island and its people.

This second point is important because crowdsourcing works best when a majority of the people who responded to his “call-out” have some prior knowledge of the issues being considered. Thus, this particular analysis does not answer whether or not crowds are always right. But it does demonstrate that a majority of the followers who responded to Begnaud’s call for information knew quite a bit about Puerto Rico’s and its challenges following Hurricane Maria.

Electricity Restoration in Puerto Rico #6MonthsAfterMaria at the Regional Level

Since late January 2018, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been publishing regular snapshots of the number of meters connected to the electric grid at the regional level. These regions represent the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s (PREPA) regional divisions. The following table provides some key information on each region.

PREPA Region Number of Meters Percent of Meters Number of Municipalities Per Region
Arecibo 153,407 10% 12
Bayamón 226,041 15% 8
Caguas 214,396 15% 17
Carolina 133,861 9% 9
Mayagüez 229,290 16% 15
Ponce 207,784 14% 14
San Juan 308,227 21% 3
TOTAL 1,473,007 100% 78

As of March 20, 2018, the USACE reports that 93.4% of the island’s 1.47 million electric customers are connected to the grid and the system’s generation capacity has been increased to an instant maximum production of 2258 mega watts – the highest reported amount since before Hurricane Maria made landfall.

While progress has been made, the sad reality is that more than 104,000 customers are still without power.

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As the stacked bar demonstrates, the Caguas Region, which includes some the municipalities hardest hit by Hurricane Maria, lags way behind the other regions. This trend has been consistent since the USACE starting to share data on customers with electricity at the regional level.

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The pie chart below puts in perspective in which regions the 104,000 customers without electricity live. And while the Caguas Region is the fourth biggest region in terms of the percentage of total customers, it currently has over half of the island’s customers without electricity.

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In a recent video posted in the USACE’s social media accounts, the commander of the Task Force Power Restoration, Colonel Jason Kirk, explained that the numbers in the Caguas Region will start to improve soon, as crews and resources are being directed to this region.

The USACE and PREPA expect to have restored electricity to 95% of the island’s customers by the end of March. But many of the people living in towns located in the island’s central mountain range will not be as lucky. They should get their power restored by the end of May… a few days before the start of the 2018 hurricane season.


Which Towns in Puerto Rico Should CBS News Correspondent David Begnaud Visit?

On March 16, 2018, David Begnaud, a correspondent for CBS News, posted a video in his Facebook and Twitter accounts, announcing his return to Puerto Rico and asking his followers to provide suggestions of places he and his team should visit to get a sense of how Puerto Rico is doing six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

Before we consider his followers’ suggestions, let’s look at Begnaud’s reporting record and why he has been such an influential figure in the Puerto Rican community. If you are already familiar with Begnaud’s work jump to the next section.

Begnaud & Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

As I noted in an earlier post, for most Puerto Ricans living either in the U.S. mainland or in the island, Begnaud has become a household name. What has made Begnaud’s style of journalism different from his colleagues? On top of his news stories for CBS News, Begnaud has used to great effect his Twitter and Facebook accounts. Many of his tweets or Facebook posts included video interviews of federal and Puerto Rican officials shot with his iPhone and photos of the island’s devastation, which helped his followers appreciate the serious humanitarian crisis that unfolded in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. And even when he was in other parts of the United States covering other news events, Begnaud kept providing coverage of Puerto Rico’s post-Maria recovery sharing his insights or retweeting other news stories.

Begnaud’s coverage of Puerto Rico recently earned him a George Polk Award for Public Service. Furthermore, his reporting helped him grow his audience in Facebook and Twitter. For example, in early September 2017 Begnaud had around 10,000 followers in Twitter, increasing to around 75,000 by November. Today, he has around 85,300 followers in this platform. In Facebook, he currently has over 350,000 followers, growing from around 10,000 followers shortly before Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico.

Crowdsourcing a News Story: Beganaud’s Facebook Followers & Their Suggestions

As of 18 March 2018, over 200,000 have viewed his video in Facebook. His post has received over 11,000 likes, more than 5,000 shares and over 2,600 comments. I started to read the comments and it became clear that there were two groups of people reacting to Begnaud’s video. The first group lived in Puerto Rico and the second where people living outside the island, but with deep knowledge of its geography and the events that have affected the recovery process. Begnaud followers encouraged him to visit different towns across the island. Which towns or municipalities received the most attention?

Using Pablo Barbera’s rFacebook package for R, I downloaded 2,658 comments. Utilizing David Robinson’s and Julia Silge’s Tidytext package, I tokenized the comments and removed ‘stopwords’ to see which towns or municipalities received the most mentions. Sixty-two of the island’s 78 municipalities received at least five mentions. San Juan and the metropolitan area were mentioned over 100 times, but I decided to exclude the capital city from the bar graph below as most of Begnaud’s followers encouraged him to pay less attention to the metro area and concentrate his reporting to smaller towns and cities.

The bar graph below details the 15 municipalities that received the most mentions. Yabucoa with 407 mentions tops the list. It is followed by Humacao with 250 mentions and Utuado with 170.

chart (11).png

The fact that Yabucoa and Humacao head this list is not surprising. Hurricane Maria made landfall in Yabucoa and the town has not recovered since then. Humacao a small city of 50,000 residents, a few miles north from Yabucoa is also still struggling to return to normal. The other towns are mostly in the island’s mountainous interior, where the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) have had difficulty repairing the electric grid.

Concluding Thoughts

Begnaud’s decision to ask his followers where to visit and what issues merited his attention was a very good idea. His followers overwhelmingly believe that he should spend some time in the island’s interior and coastal towns in the southeast. Begnaud’s method raises an important question about crowdsourcing and whether journalists and other researchers should adopt this strategy. But this is an issue I will tackle in a future post.