By Patrick Egwu
The Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism [RCDIJ] — a media nonprofit established in 2017, is building a culture of data journalism for journalists with reporting experience in data and investigative reporting across newsrooms in Nigeria.
Each year, a masterclass on data journalism is organised for journalists to build their capacity and skills and provide them with the necessary resources they need for their work which focus on in-depth investigative and general reporting on health, government contracts, finance, conflict and other development issues in the country and sub-Saharan Africa.
Media experts and data analysts work in collaboration with the nonprofit to train journalists and participants in the area of focus for the journalism masterclass. Last month, the masterclass on data journalism for about 50 journalists who participated was on open contract and procurement, data journalism, public projects tracking and monitoring.
“The data journalism masterclass is one of the key programmes of the RCDIJ,” Chidi Chinedu, the programs director of the organisation said. “The Centre was set up to contribute to the advancement of a free press on the continent. We focus on different areas of need for African journalists like investigative journalism, research, fact-checking, and also conduct direct social intervention in areas like promoting democracy, freedom of speech, free association of people, helping to advance transparency and accountability and helping to empower the media and other critical social actors in the society.”
Additionally, the RCDIJ partners with other media and data organisations in training journalists and forging collaboration and partnerships for future projects. Last year, organisations such as Code for Africa, the International Press Centre [IPC] and BudgIt, Open Contracting Partnership, the Bureau of Public Procurement [BPP], and TrackaNG helped to train journalists across the country during the training.
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“The motivation for setting up the foundation is to help deal with what we perceive as inefficiency especially in the area of skills and capacity for journalists in Nigeria who we thought didn’t have the kind of exposure the rest of their colleagues didn’t have in carrying out their responsibilities and tasks,” says Samuel Ibemere, executive director at the Centre and Editor-In-Chief of Ripples Nigeria. “So, we thought that gap on capacity reflected on the outputs in terms quality, depth and integrity of stories and we thought that for us to catch up with the rest of the world, we must begin to expose Nigerian journalists or avail them the opportunity to build their skills and capacity to compete favourably.”
Andie Okon, the Building Manager at the Open Contracting Partnership which was one of the partners and trainers during the masterclass, said says the reason her organisation is partnering with the RCDIJ is to improve their data analytical skills and point them in the right direction of data journalism so that stories, especially those focused on investigation, are backed up with data evidence.
“It was a very interactive session and information opportunity for journalists learning about the red flags in government procurement data,” she said. “Data journalism is very key because the best way to prove that your story is true is when you have facts and evidence to back it up and data generally represents that evidence that you are looking for in every story you are telling.”
Chinedu adds that the centre wanted to focus on how journalists can use data to best monitor, evaluate and track government’s procurement processes because it has been known as one of the conduit pipes for corruption and lack of accountability and transparency over the years. The controversies and reported mismanagement of Covid-19 relief materials, Chinedu says, has made it more important to highlight and expose issues around it using data and visualisation.
“We had contracts that were speedily done, approved expenditures that generated controversies and so we needed to understand how to properly monitor the procurement process and ensure that accountability and transparency were followed. So, we want to train journalists on the skills and techniques to keep tabs on procurement development in the country and also promote transparency and accountability around public procurement in Nigeria,” he says.
Journalists who attended the data journalism masterclass learned how to use data to effectively tell their stories and to help track news and document very important subjects in society and tools to understand where to extract data and effectively visualise data and communicate clearly and effectively to the public.
“The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” Chinedu says. “Some of them have gone on to set up data desks and continued receiving training from our partners and they have been able to make channels of impact in journalism as a result of the training we have provided.”
Going forward, Chinedu says the masterclass “needs to be expanded and go beyond one day to maybe 3–4 days and become more like a mini-school with intensive and immersive training on the subjects we focus on.”
However, despite the work of the organisation in advancing the capacity of journalists across the country and beyond, some challenges like funding to expand the reach of the programme and additional partnership support exist.
“Data journalism is really critical not just in Nigeria but also around the world and we feel that using data will help in putting out accurate information to the public,” Chinedu says. “We have to communicate better and ensure that objectivity is at the Centre of what we do. But it is a very technical aspect of journalism that requires very skilled professionals and specialised training to be able to develop the capacity and skills to professionally put out data-based journalistic content. That is why we have invested in this area and need funding support for the work we do.”
To overcome funding challenges, the organisation is collaborating with other media organisations in setting up a media fund to help and support journalists embark on investigative projects that hold power to account and advance the growth of the society.
“We’ve got on our challenges but rather than give excuses, what to do is to take the bull by the horn and that is what we are doing,” Ibemere said. “We want to create the framework and structures that can help us get better in doing our jobs. And we believe that if we get better, that will reflect in the quality of journalism that Nigeria and the rest of Africa can be proud of in the future.”
Ibemere said: “Good stories cost money and not many journalists have the opportunity to undertake very serious investigative stories because the organisation that they work for either lacks the resources or when they have the resources, they don’t appreciate that those quality stories demand investment and that is money. Some stories could take months to investigate, travel, access to some kind of special equipment is needed to conduct stories that are impactful. Journalism has gone beyond the ordinary and requires a lot of investment.”
According to Ibemere, journalists are expected to pitch story ideas that will be assessed for possible funding with a focus on how the stories will impact society and bring development all over Africa. The quality of journalism today, tomorrow and in the future, he said, is going to reflect the capacity and competencies of those who are currently behind news and content creation.
So, we want our industry to be top-rated and that is not going to be achieved out of sheer sentiments but because we are deliberately and strategically committed to building the capacity of journalists in the country,” he said. “We want to give journalists the opportunity to undertake some kind of specialised reports of issues that concern society of which the outcome can provide on how those challenges can be dealt with. So, we are looking for solutions and solutions come at a price. Solutions require you to commit resources to solve. To propose solutions and provide solutions to some of the challenges in our society.”
Reporting for this story was supported by a micro-grant from Jamlab Africa