On the week of 8 – 12th and 15 – 19th in February 2016 in Abuja, I facilitated training on tracking government spending with 16 producers of popular current affairs programmes and 16 news editors from the broadcast media in a BBC Media Action supported capacity building for journalists. Nothing can be more exciting than igniting journalists passion to innovate their newsrooms, and also participating at this training were facilitators from BudgIT (One of the leading organizations using technology to hold government accountable) and Premium Times (An online media organization disrupting the media terrain in Nigeria).
No doubt, journalism is one of the profession that has young and vibrate women, and as confirmed the participants had a balance of gender, unlike other training have facilitated, that gender is always skewed towards the male. 60% of the participants had contact with the computer in the middle of the last decade, at the advent of Facebook, and just at the exit of excite.com and inbox.com, Certainly, our participants this time should be conversant with the new technologies. Were they? I will say yes, at least they are familiar with their newsroom consoles, Twitter and Facebook.
Other than their console, they were exposed to data journalism tools that can be leveraged on in scraping government budget data, from the conversion of PDFs to Excel using www.online2pdf.com ,Tabula and WebScraper. But one thing that remains clear is that many times, we see the budget data, but actually do not know when the money on the budget will be spent. So, what does a journalist do in such case? I asked, and most knew they are always the first to know, as a press release is always issued to media houses, when these funds are approved or released. So journalist can scrape the press release and find useful information for tracking government expenditure, and thus making a story out of it. Another useful tool is Google Alerts which sends instant email of keywords that has earlier been subscribed to by the journalist.
We all agreed, that there is always a time difference between approval and release of funds, as such the time lag keeps the journalist inquiring, and keeping the story alive. So many at the training asked, what funds do we have to keep such stories alive, in a program or in the news? In the last six months, I have trained 62 journalists from the print media, and broadcast, the same question keep re-occurring, and this time, I was almost told to change the training topic to how to write funding proposals for data journalism. Perhaps, this can stop the popular “Kwa” mentalism!
As more of the traditional broadcasters are now moving into data journalism, many are still incapacitated due to media ownership, availability of knowledge resources, skill gaps and a peer review center where knowledge can be exchanged on the go. Each of these training always draw us up to the solution, perhaps, as Connected Development [CODE] is working on its citizen lab for activists and journalists, it will be better placed to tackle some of this challenges.
As someone who has a background in Information Management, I always appreciate the media, and those that stand by the consoles to inform Africa, and through this we believe the console can turn around, educate, inform and impact our society. With more data been churned out everyday, and more funding in the direction of data journalism, I look forward to taking another set of interaction on data journalism with 24 news editors from Abuja, Lagos, Enugu, Adamawa, Kaduna and Plateau, in April, let’s keep the consoles jingling!