By Patrick Egwu

Nigerian media startup, Dataphyte is helping journalists across newsrooms with access to relevant data they need for their research and reporting while merging innovative storytelling with data journalism.

Access to datasets and working at the intersection of journalism and numbers is a problem many journalists in Nigeria still struggle with. But Dataphyte, which started in 2019, is bridging this gap by making data available to journalists to help them in reporting on important topics such as government corruption, national and state budgets and public projects for their stories.

“I always like to describe Dataphyte as an intervention and the goal is to support the process of filling the gap between the supply and demand side of data for accountability, advocacy and anti-corruption in the country,” Joshua Olufemi, the managing director of Dataphyte said.

On the demand side of Dataphyte, Olufemi said the media, civil societies and citizens at every point in time of their accountability activities in journalism or public advocacies need information for their everyday business, corporate or entrepreneurial purposes.

Several data-driven stories with visualisation and infographics which expose inefficiency and lack of accountability and drive conversations around the government’s policies are published every week on the organisation’s website.

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“It’s always difficult to find the data that you need for your work and even when you find any, the manner and format in which they are provided also makes it very difficult to use,” he said. “Dataphyte as an intervention is here to resolve those two issues — providing data in machine-readable formats for citizens, change, and accountability agents across the board. The goal is to ensure more openness of data within the ecosystem.”

In Nigeria, Dataphyte is the first data-driven media organisation whose aim is to combine data journalism with open data, data training, and data as a service. Journalists and most newsrooms are not data-driven in their reporting. Data analysis and visualisation which makes it easier for readers to understand the context of the topic are almost always missing in some published stories.

A 2019 study of State of Technology in Global Newsrooms conducted by the International

Center for Journalists [ICFJ] which was done with more than 4,000 journalists from 149 countries, shows that while 79% of journalists would like to be trained in data analysis, only 35% of newsrooms provide such opportunities.

But Dataphyte plans to help five newsrooms in Nigeria establish data desks in the next two to three years. Olufemi, who has organised data journalism training and capacity building workshops for hundreds of journalists in the country, says the organisation is providing that model for what data journalism should look like and the goal is to build the capacity of journalists and newsrooms to produce data stories that raise their profile and that of the organisations they represent.

“We thought there was almost no data journalism platform in Nigeria at least those that do data journalism for the sake of it which is for accountability and development,” he says. “There was some form of financial journalism here and there but using data to tell compelling and development stories was something that was missing. So, if you are a career journalist or even a student journalist and you are wondering, how should the genre of data journalism be done, you can easily take a look at what Dataphyte is doing.”

It’s something he has done in the past, Olufemi said of plans to set up data-driven desks in newsrooms across the country. In the last three years before setting up Dataphyte, Olufemi developed the use of data journalism desks for accountability reporting at Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism [PTCIJ] and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting [ICIR] — two of Nigeria’s leading investigative media organisations.

The whole idea, Olufemi said, is to do in-house training and mentoring for three journalism outfits in the country and help them in realising the importance of evidence-driven journalism and providing them with tools that will involve doing joint-data journalism projects, he said.

“We are already in talks with some of them, and we currently have an informal partnership with Daily Trust whom we have done like two sets of training already, working with them in an informal manner especially with their nonprofit foundation,” he added.

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Dataphyte is also working with Order Paper, a media organisation focused on legislative advocacy reporting by helping them in looking at how they can use legislative data to do critical reporting or how to use general data to also provide some kind of insider intelligence about legislation.

“We have plans to work with other organisations such as The Nation and Vanguard in the future to see how platforms with large audiences can maximize that opportunity.”

Working with huge numbers and datasets is always a challenge for some early-career reporters and student journalists but Dataphyte is simplifying the use of data and numbers for accountability reporting.

“We focus on how you can easily take advantage of data and squeeze out the most important thing,” Olufemi said. “That is something we are trying to promote to show that even if you don’t know anything about numbers, for every number, you probably have something you can compare like average or percentage or looking at trends between data and numbers over a period of time or the relationship between this data and other data.”

Olufemi said they also have plans of using video demos to illustrate how beginners in data journalism can learn. The strategy is to show steps of how a data story is produced and what processes are used in analysing the data before the story is written.

Additionally, Dataphyte is helping state and sub-national governments set up an online database that makes data accessible for the public whenever they need it.

“If you tell a public servant ‘do you know you can make data available online for citizens instead of them always writing you and always going to archives,’ it will look as though you are asking them to open up their own personal lives,” Olufemi said. “So, we thought of supporting government institutions at all levels to open up their own data in a manner that will promote good governance and development as a whole.”

“What we are doing is helping them to think through having an open data portal. I shouldn’t be going to search on Google to get simple information like the number of police stations in the country or public schools, and health centres. This information should be available and accessible on portals run by institutions of government concerned,” he said.

The important data that helps to drive decision making is not available and the culture of data collection among government agencies and institutions is poor

Dataphyte recently entered a partnership with the Public and Private Development Centre [PPDC] to provide technical resources for journalists across the country to carry out investigative reporting using data sourced from Budeshi — an online platform that links budget and procurement data to various public services using the Open Contracting Data Standards [OCDS]. The program is to expose journalists to the use of open contracting data in Nigeria.

“We are just providing technical resources while they [PPDC] provide the funding. Ours is to train journalists on how to use the open contract data and appreciate it for investigative reporting,” Olufemi said. “After they receive the grant, we provide some data journalism mentorship for them to realise their storytelling.”

Some challenges are, however, affecting Dataphyte’s work. Government data is mostly shrouded in secrecy despite the Freedom of Information Act signed into law in 2011 which gives citizens the power to access public data.

“A lot of data in the country is disconnected, that is even when they are available,” Olufemi said. “The important data that helps to drive decision making is not available and the culture of data collection among government agencies and institutions is poor. That is one major challenge beyond the fact that we are still a startup and need funds to run some of our activities.”

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Reporting supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab



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