By Gemma Ritchie

When Nukta Africa, the Swahili language data journalism news site based in Tanzania, launched in 2018 the founders quickly realised that to be sustainable, news alone wasn’t going to cut it. Just running, as they put it, “strange stuff about data” didn’t generate enough revenue.

Instead of walking away, founders and journalists Nuzulack DausenMaphosa Banduka and Daniel Mwingira went hybrid. They began offering their data services to other media organisations, companies, NGOs, and people who wanted to learn more about data.

Now, in addition to the data news site, they have created a TV show, a Facebook site dedicated to fact-checking, a podcast, and Jiko Point, a multimedia platform that focuses on clean energy. And they’ve gone from a team of three to 13.

Media Hack spoke with the Dausen via email. This is an edited version of our conversation.

What went into your decision about producing data journalism in Swahili?

When we were starting our company, data journalism was at the nascent stage in Tanzania. And it still is. Even the news outlets that were publishing data-driven news were mainly English newspapers or websites. Most Swahili online news outlets were publishing breaking news, gossip, or entertainment. Since launching, we have influenced many mainstream and digital-native news outlets to publish data-driven content in Swahili.

How has your work been received?

While we are still growing our audience, the feedback we have received is encouraging. For example, in 2021 we wanted to close a data product that presents wholesale crop prices three times a week. The analytics behind the product were not impressive. Within a week of stopping it, we received many calls from readers from different parts of the country asking why we were not publishing the crop data. They told us the data was useful to them. We reinstated the product and it is still there today.

What is Nukta’s business model?

We use a hybrid business model as part of our strategy to diversify our revenue sources. Our revenue is generated from advertisements; sponsored content; affiliate marketing; grants; training and consultancy services; and content productions services where clients pay us to create content to be published on their platforms, including data visualisations.

We started experimenting with a membership model for our special reports for both Nukta Habari and Jiko Point in January 2023, and we expect by December will have some insights on how it has been received.

What are the barriers to data literacy you have found during your data journalism training?

The majority of trainees do not have basic digital literacy skills that would help them quickly adopt data journalism. This means most of the time in data journalism courses we are teaching digital tools instead of actual data-related stuff.

Also, there is a belief that if someone failed mathematics in secondary school, they won’t make it when he or she has a job. This belief has made the majority of our trainees believe data journalism is very difficult, while it is not.

In some localities, it is difficult to access data, and top managers in media outlets don’t understand all the benefits of data journalism. Some have either rejected data journalism programs or do not support journalists taking more time to do just one data-driven story.

To solve this, we need to customise data journalism training based on the level of understanding by putting the courses in ranks such as basics, intermediate and advanced.

Also, the training should consider resources available for respective trainees…we need to invest more in basic digital skills such as the use of Microsoft Excel, social media, and cloud-based services like Google Drive.

If you could change one thing about data journalism, what would it be?

We have witnessed many journalists attending several data journalism training courses which include data analysis and data visualisation. But they are unable to write or produce quality data-driven stories. The main issue is storytelling. To solve this problem, we are advocating dedicating more hours to how to write data stories or scripts.

Also, we would like to change the perception among people who believe data journalism is only for digital news outlets and newspapers. We started working on this by ensuring we find innovative ways of telling data-driven stories on radio, like the simplification of percentages in narrations and adding more human voices.

Also, we need to help journalists and editors in the contextualisation of stories. Most of them just drop the findings in stories without giving the context which will answer the so-what factor. This downplays the impact of the stories.

Our stories and infographics or visuals should strive to contextualise the issue in question. If the food prices are rising in Tanzania, why should we care? Who is affected the most? What can be done to solve that? A series of visuals can bring a story context.

What is the difference between collecting and working with data in the Global North versus the Global South?

The main difference is how we value data in our daily lives and business. I have been closely following the open data movement and data journalism progress across the world, and most literature on the collecting and use of data are from Europe and America. At least we are seeing some work from Asia but very rarely from Africa.

Governments and other institutions in the Global North are at least providing data and the users have a relatively high data literacy rate.

In the Global South, while we have improved in data collection and use within the last decade, we still need to do more. There are times you find government websites have old data, probably three to five years old. Some countries do not have data protection and access to information laws which are key in data collection and use.

Do you have any tips for data journalists working on the continent, or those interested in pursuing data journalism?

  1. Never stop learning new things in data journalism. Try new tools, ways of storytelling, and data analysis and visualisation. Things change constantly.
  2. Generate and understand your sources of data. A good data journalist knows many data sources and ways of getting them. For websites or data portals, turn on notifications so you don’t miss anything.
  3. Understand the nature of the data you are working with. Read the metadata; it gives you details on who published the data, how it was collected, what measurements are used, and how frequently it is published. For example, some data refers to households as units of analysis but someone who fails to understand his or her dataset well will be likely to say people instead of household. This is wrong. Take time to check everything.
  4. Use simple language and simplify the percentages. We are doing data journalism not to brag to our audience that we know how to work with data — we do this to inform them and help them make informed decisions.
  5. Practice. Practice. Practice. Immediately after attending a training session, practice what you have learned. We have trained thousands of journalists and editors, but very few continue to do data journalism well. No miracle here. You will improve by learning from past works and getting feedback about them.

This article is republished with permission from the Media Hack Collective.

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