The Art and Science of Data-Driven Journalism

Data Journalism and Activism

Media throughout Africa face all of these challenges and more, fighting obstinate public officials, paper records, no access to information laws, and outright threats and physical violence directed at journalists. Building the capacity of African media to practice data-driven journalism has now taken on new prominence, as the digital disruption that has permanently altered the models of more developed countries bears down on countries in the continent.207The challenges that data journalism in West Africa faces are significant, though these are not unique from elsewhere on the continent.208investigative journalist, is a fierce advocate for data-driven journalism that not only makes sense of the world for readers and viewers, but also provides them with tools to become more engaged in changing the conditions they learn about in the work. For instance, data journalism boosted voter registration in Kenya,209creating a simple website using modern Web-based tools and technologies.A “data boot camp” in Kenya in 2012 led to another excellent example of this dynamic. Arenstein explained:NTV, the national free-to-air station, had been looking into why young girls in a rural area of Kenya did very well academically until the ages of 11 or 12”and then either dropped off the academic record completely or their academic performance plummeted. The explanation by the authorities and everyone else was that this was simply traditional; it’s tribal. Families are pulling them out of school to do chores and housework, and as a result, they can’t perform.As it turned out, that was an incorrect conclusion. Irene Choge, a Kenyan journalist who attended the data journalism training, started mining the available data and public records. Choge first looked at medical records to see if cholera was involved. Then, she examined water records and physical infrastructure. It was there that she found a key correlation: The schools that saw the worst drop-offs in academic performance by teenage girls were the ones that didn’t have sanitation facilities.Choge subsequently worked with developers to create a simple SMS-based phone application that enabled parents to determine how schools compared and, notably, to advocate for change. Her work in reporting school sanitation woes has led officials to shift resources to building sanitation facilities.210While such applications move further into the realms of political advocacy and citizen engagement than many journalists may find comfortable, the growth of services that span the intersection of open government and data journalism will continue to be an important, fertile ground in the years ahead.