“Data-driven journalism is the future. Journalists need to be data-savvy. It used to be that you would get stories by chatting to people in bars, and it still might be that you’ll do it that way some times. But now it’s also going to be about poring over data and equipping yourself with the tools to analyse it and picking out what’s interesting. And keeping it in perspective, helping people out by really seeing where it all fits together, and what’s going on in the country,” — Sir Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, quoted in the Data Journalism Handbook.
Cape Town based Code for South Africa, a not-for-profit civic tech organisation that is in the vanguard of the open data movement and data-driven storytelling in South Africa, will launch Africa’s first Data Journalism School in February 2016.
The school aims to train a new generation of data journalists and is headed up by ICJF Knight Fellow, newsroom trainer and data journalism pioneer Raymond Joseph, supported by a team of experienced journalists, coders, data wranglers, analysts and content specialists.
“There’s a huge amount of information locked up in data and data journalism gives you the ability to interrogate large amounts of information that would be impossible for one person to do on their own,” said Joseph.
Positioning itself as a centre for news innovation, the school offers journalists on-the-job learning in a working newsroom that will have its own coder, data wranglers, experienced data journalists and a digital savvy news editor.
Compelling data-driven stories
The programme offers junior to mid-level journalists the opportunity to gain practical data-journalism skills to equip them to deliver compelling data-driven multimedia stories.
Joseph explained that many of the tools built at Code for South Africa promote a call to action. The Living Wage tool was embedded as part of this Struggle for a Fair Wage story that won the recent Vodacom Journalist of the Year award in the online category.
The three month programme will kick off with 10 days of intense classroom work concentrating on the data pipeline: finding data, acquiring it, scraping data, cleaning data, analysing data and telling stories, including visualisation. As well as teaching proficiency in the data pipeline, there will also be a variety of modules that include mobile journalism and social media journalism and content verification.
“People complain that there is not enough data available, but in fact there is loads of data if you know how – and where – to find it,” said Joseph. “The newsroom will also act as a media laboratory where we’ll be experimenting with diverse and relevant ways to deliver content, like using a variety of free tools, and games. We will also experiment with delivering content to non-smart phones to reach audiences who are often forgotten by the mainstream media.”
But, he said, data was merely a tool that pointed to stories, and still needed journalism to make sense of it.“What we do is take the data and put a human face to it,” said Joseph.
Data to tell stories
“We’re using data to tell stories. Like documents and other sources of information, data is just one more source. The data does the heavy lifting, but what it doesn’t do is the journalism. You’ve still got to do your research, find and verify information and create your story,” he added.
“We offer actionable information and actively seek feedback from the public. In this way it empowers people to make informed decisions and take action regarding issues that affect their lives,” said Joseph.
According to Joseph, the school has received applications from around the world, although the programme is currently open only to South African applicants.
Media houses are paying to send their journalists on the course and Times Media has already signed up three mid-career journalists from different titles. Freelancers and students will be accepted onto the course at no charge and will be paid a monthly stipend, if they are able to motivate for such support.
“People need to eat and travel at the least, you can’t teach hungry people. We want to ensure that no one xis excluded because of cost,” Joseph said.
The school aims to create an immediate impact with the work participants produce on the course.
Data as a source
“Using data as the source, the content produced will be delivered in diverse and appropriate ways, cross-platform and using multimedia. The content produced by journalists from media houses will go back to their publications,” said Joseph.
Developing and building a replicable model for a data-driven digital newsroom that produces multi-platform stories is a priority for the school. “It’s important for us to also experiment and look at new business models and build a business case for data-driven journalism,” said Joseph.
“We plan to produce some hardcore data journalists out of the school. Journalism is changing and the ability to work with data and interrogate information should be standard for any journalist. It also ensures that their careers are future-proofed.”
Journalists who would like to apply to go on the course can sign up here. Applications close today.
Follow Bettina Moss on Twitter @Bets_GloWoman
Follow Ray Joseph on Twitter @rayjoe
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