NileWell is a new platform that connects journalists, scientists and environmental researchers in the Nile Basin region. “As we have been working throughout the years, we realised that there is a trust gap between journalists and scientists. Scientists are often the people who are collecting and publishing the data that journalists need to access and visualise for their stories. Along with supporting journalists in data visualisation, we were thinking about how could we find a way to bridge this gap and promote co-production of stories and different collaborations,” said Annika McGinnis environmental data journalist and co-founder of InfoNile.
The basic functionality of the platform is to find or connect with a journalist or scientist and the purpose of NileWell is to promote science-based environmental journalism by facilitating collaboration between journalists and scientists. “We have had a good number sign up but it is still in the early stages, so far 59 researchers and 152 journalists have signed up onto the platform,” said McGinnis.
Before launching the platform. the team at InfoNile spent a year conducting surveys on journalists and scientists in their network to understand the problem on both sides. Through their research, they found that these were the challenges that journalists were facing: lack of accessibility to reports, language and availability of research. The scientist’s concerns were: a lack of scientific communication skills (being unable to bring down scientific information), scientists being uncomfortable with sharing information and journalists’ lack of interest in science stories.
The intention of NileWell is to address the problems that both journalists and scientists face. The platform works as a library. For example, a journalist is able to search for a scientist and is able to connect with them by sending the scientist a direct message. “We want journalists and scientists to work together for facts,” said Fredrick Mugira, water and climate change journalist and co-founder of InfoNile.
Mugira explains that stories about the Nile and water are often politicised and their aim is to defamiliarise stories, to only focus on the facts. The defamiliarisation of stories is to present to audiences common things in an unfamiliar way so they could gain new perspectives and see the world differently.
“When journalists work with scientists they get information that is researched and this information is made available to governments and diplomats and helps them make an informed decision about the Nile and surrounding communities,” said Mugira.
NileWell is the flagship project of InfoNile, which is a group of geo-journalists with a mission to uncover critical stories on water issues in the Nile River Basin through data-based multimedia storytelling. The Nile Basin includes 11 countries in northeastern Africa – Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Sudan, Sudan and Egypt. InfoNile is a part of Water Journalists Africa, the largest network of journalists reporting on water issues on the African continent.
“Much of the media in the Nile Basin is nationalistic around water issues. Water is a very political issue in most of the countries in the Nile Basin but yet it is a shared resource that so many people are depending on and its also under a lot of threats because of climate change and increasing populations – more people need the water yet the water is threatened because of human activity and climate change,” said McGinnis. “We wanted to bring journalists together in these countries to do cross-border stories, we don’t look at the nationalistic issues but we look at how can everyone share this resource in a time with more water scarcity,” explains McGinnis.
InfoNile produces cross-border investigations – including on foreign land deals, wildlife trafficking and conservation, climate change, and the impact of large-scale dams – in such a way that they promote collaboration across countries and new geo-storytelling techniques such as data-based maps, drone videos and satellite imagery. They create interactive, actionable maps on issues of water and the environment, and map stories onto these maps to provide a human layer to the data.
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