Eye on Africa's data journalism eco-system
Conversations with Data: #83
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Welcome back to the Conversations with Data newsletter!
Last week we hosted a live Discord chat with Code For Africa's Tricia Govindasamy and Jacopo Ottaviani. The pair spoke to us about the state of data journalism in Africa by citing some compelling projects from the region, including WanaData, InfoNile and Mapping Makoko.
If you missed the live Discord chat, listen to the podcast on Spotify, SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts
Alternatively, read the edited Q&A with Code For Africa below.
What we asked
Let's start with the general media landscape in Africa. What makes it different from Europe?
Jacopo: If we compare it to the European media landscape, the average age in African newsrooms is often lower. This means our African colleagues are more open-minded to experiment with techniques that they have never seen before. There is a very fertile ground for innovation in Africa. But again, I think we should focus on individual countries and single initiatives and explore them very carefully because the situation changes dramatically from country to country.
Tricia: Something about media in Africa that may be different is that radio journalism is still quite big. I'm not talking about podcasts. I'm just talking about plain old fashioned radio. Many are grassroots radio stations run by journalists as well as citizen reporters. They may not have formal journalism backgrounds, but they are passionate about it and just go for it.
Could you give our listeners give a quick overview of the data journalism scene in Africa?
Tricia: Data journalism is growing in Africa, and especially since the advent of COVID-19. Journalists now realise that data is really important and why they need to develop data literacy skills. There's generally a lack of digital literacy skillsets amongst the journalists that we work with. Many of them have very little formal journalism education. Often many journalism schools don't cover data journalism as part of their curriculum. You also have those in newsrooms who never had any experience working with data journalism. Code For Africa has a programme called academy.Africa, which offers data journalism courses for free. Hopefully, this can bridge the gap.
Talk to us about cross-border investigations in Africa.
Jacopo: I think cross borders journalism is becoming bigger and bigger in Africa. We're trying to invest a lot into that because we strongly believe it can make a difference. Why so? Because topics are cross border nowadays -- transnational trade, the international exchanges, climate change and even the pandemic. Another important issue is African migration. Most of the migrants in Africa move from one African country to another. African journalists can and do collaborate. We worked with a network of water journalists in East Africa called InfoNile. This specialised network is made up of journalists from 11 countries all in the Nile Basin region tackling water stories.
What African countries are leading the way when it comes to providing access to information and open data?
Tricia: Statistics South Africa is our national statistical department. I believe they are at the forefront in Africa in terms of open data and sharing the data. Most of the data is available online and you can register for a free account. They provide a database where you can access a lot of survey data. You can download that into a spreadsheet format. My colleagues in Nigeria often tell me that they can walk in at any time (or they have the right to walk in at any time) to a government office and request data. However, the data may not always be available in a spreadsheet.
Jacopo: In terms of data liberalisation, the type of challenges we sometimes have in Africa is very similar to the challenges we have in Italy where data is not always available. There is an issue with the census. According to The Economist, almost half of the continent in Africa is counted with a census that is older than 2009. These are not fresh figures about the population in Africa in many regions. This is a problem for journalists, but it's also a problem for policymakers who have to shape their policies with data that is not up to date. If public institutions could invest more in a census, that would be great for everyone, including the media. Of course, it's challenging and not straightforward.
Talk to us about WanaData.
Tricia: WanaData is a pan-African network of 500 women in journalism and data science working in Africa. We have chapters in different countries, and due to lockdown it's all virtual. So during these meetups, we do a training session or a talk related to data or data journalism. Any female journalist, data scientist or technologist is welcome to join. One of the projects I like to highlight is about the COVID-19 outbreak. We've just awarded data fellowships to 12 journalists from four different African countries. In total, they will produce about 40 stories on the vaccination rollout in Africa. These fellowships provide grants to write these stories. They are mentored by Code For Africa. Data analysts will assist them in finding data and visualising their data. They are trained in using tools like Flourish and uploading data on Code For Africa's open data portal called Open Africa.
What other examples have come from WanaData?
Tricia: We have a tool called GenderGapAfrica, which takes data from the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report. And the particular data set we examine the gender pay difference in African countries. So we look at how much a female gets paid and how much a male gets paid for a similar type of work in a particular country. So we have created this tool. The user goes onto the website, they select the country they're from, they select their gender, how much they're getting paid. And then it actually shows the amount more or less that one gets paid.
Tell us about the Mapping Makoko project. Why does mapping a forgotten community like Makoko matter?
Jacopo: Makoko is one of Africa’s floating inner-city slums, with a third of the community built on stilts in a lagoon off the Lagos mainland. The rest of the settlement is on swampy land with little sanitation and few public services. It is estimated that around 300,000 people live there today, but the lack of data means the actual population is unknown and largely politically unrecognised.
Before beginning the Mapping Makoko project, it didn't feature much on current maps, and there was very little information on its geography, population density, or land ownership. The team knew that an accurate map is fundamental to plan and improve the living conditions of those who live in Makoko. Instead of doing it ourselves, we trained locals to fly the drones around and map the community. The team used OpenStreetMap to draft a layout of the area complete with landmarks and streets.
Finally, if you had a magic wand and could change one thing about journalism in Africa what would it be?
Tricia: I would want there to be more initiative from newsrooms to give their employees time to attend training sessions for data journalism.
Jacopo: I would love to see stronger business models to make media more sustainable and more open to innovation. This would enable more newsrooms to experiment. Many institutes focus on media sustainability, but I wish more resources existed to expand their work.
Our next conversation
Our next conversation will feature Sinduja Rangarajan, Data and Interactives Editor at Mother Jones. She is an award-winning journalist based in the United States with a background in Investigative reporting, data and collaborating with academics. Drawing on her current and past stories, we will discuss how journalists can use data to power their immigration reporting.
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