Data Driven Investigations: Why Nigerian Journalists Are Left Out

– By Odimegwu Onwumere –

Entry for the 2014 edition of Data Journalism Awards (DJA) started in January. April 4th is given as deadline for submission. Organiser of the awards is the Global editors Network in collaboration with the European Journalism Center. Total prizes of US $21, 990 are up for wins.

It is on record that 2012 was the first year for the international Data Journalism Awards; an event which had €45,000 in prizes. Prior to its launching in January 2012, over 300 applications were received from 60 countries.

In 2013, €15,000 prize-fund was to be shared between eight winning entries. Also, over 300 applications from all over the world were received. On Saturday, 27 April, 2013, at the Perugia International Journalism Festival, 73 finalists were announced of which eight winning projects were selected in June.

The shortlisted candidates were those of 19 different countries; Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Chile, France, Hong Kong, Hungary, Kenya, Romania, UK, United States, and Venezuela.

A renowned data Journalism expert, Paul Steiger, who is the Founder of ProPublica, acting as the President, led the experts of jury for the 2012 and 2013 editions of the awards. No Nigerian journalists was on the lists of the 2012 and 2013 editions of the competition christened the “Pulitzer Prize of Data Journalism,” and, subsequently, due to lack of engendering facilities to espouse data driven investigations in Nigeria.

Media analysts in Nigeria opined that nowadays, complex headlines have-a-need for supporting information. News media in countries like the United States of America and Britain had since the mid-2000s signed-up programmers to devise data-driven news projects within their newsrooms. They are called “programmer-journalists,” according to a source.

The source worried over the need for computer-assisted reporting in Nigeria, as had become a tradition in a country like the US, beached in the supposition that data can help journalists to set stories through the expose of public issues.

Declan Okpalaeke, a Nigerian Three-time winner of CNN’s African Journalist, who’s the Chairman of the African Health Journalists Association, International Centre for Journalists, ICFJ Knight Fellow, viewed that the immensity of stories done by Nigerian journalists and, by extension, African journalists, illustrate a lack in data application.

He’s ensuring that newsrooms become less reliant on peripheral platforms, gain control over manifestation and the data they collect over time for public consumption. A tool known as Datawrapper was introduced to journalists in Lagos, by Okpalaeke and his team, who were positive that the Datawrapper would bring a new sunrise to data reporting across newsrooms in Nigeria.

Okpalaeke believed that there are so many figures built into clumsy data out there that need to be distilled for the public’s interest that only the journalists may have the time to follow through. According to him, more than ever, there is a heightened desire for health and development information backed by credible data by the public that put most newsrooms on the edge; Datawrapper solves this easily.

Oluseun Onigbinde, who’s also a Nigerian Knight Fellow of the ICFJ, believed that the tool helps them get perfect idea out of the inundation of data out there by making usage of modern visualisation libraries simpler and faster, taking the coding out of the publishing process.

The Datawrapper was said to be non-commercial, open source software, and licensed under the MIT License, and developed for ABZV, which was journalism training organisation associated to BDVZ, the German Association of Newspaper Publishers. Okpalaeke and his team affirmed that most journalists in the country, when they use data at all, take the data given to them by whatever sources and bang it as it is, what is called “cut and paste”; they do not seek to understand what the figures are saying, do not analyse the figures, what stories are behind the figures and do not construe what the figures represent.

The team whispered that using Datawrapper and other tools for mapping, network visualisations and other forms of visualisation is a way to the future, using data to build in-depth, trustable reporting and to provide better context about what is going on.

Data-driven journalism often uses graph to relay its message, order than the mere understanding of data-journalism as a process of gathering outsized datasets to derive useful information by an average Nigerian journalist, which is geared to inform clearer on a matter through stories. An account said that data journalism can be used to create stories on varieties of subjects such as fire department response time to an emergency, evaluation of deforestation, voting records to trail alterations in public policy predilections, and many others.

It’s expected that all data journalists need a resolution for combining and weighing their data, because a drift in dissimilar data can pilot to unexpected stories. A journalist in Nigeria who would not want his name in print said that Nigeria is lagging in the use of data journalism no matter the clattering by Okpalaeke and his Datawrapper, because there is hardly software that will enable journalists to harmonize many bases of data and inspect them speedily and systematically with expected results in the country.

The journalist stressed that he examined from a source different from Nigeria that “In 2012, the discovery of an instance of illicit human tissue trafficking in Ukraine precipitated a data-driven journalistic inquiry into the case by ICIJ reporters. The story ultimately turned into a disruption of an illicit global trade in human body parts. Software was used in the investigation to explore and visualise how tissue was taken from the dead, how it moved through illicit networks, and where it ended up in other human beings.”

The journalist went further: “In September 2007, the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) and Georgetown University’s Journalism programme launched a programme to investigate a number of unanswered questions related to Daniel Pearl’s murder. A software enabled programme analysts to build out a network of people and organisations suspected of being involved in the high-profile crime.”

Wikipedia introduces Daniel Pearl (October 10, 1963 – February 1, 2002), as a journalist with American and Israeli citizenship, who was kidnapped by Pakistani militants and later murdered by Al-Qaeda member Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan.

Nigeria has not risen to the occasion of using data journalism to unravel hard issues, which most developed countries and organisations are using. The journalist also said he knew that a group in Europe used data journalism to partner with CPI to investigate Medicare fraud. Probably, according to him, fraudulent activities of doctors were unearthed and more than $10 billion dollars was recovered in Medicare billing errors.

“Developments like the MP Expense Scandal (2009) and the 2013 release of the “Offshore leaks” reveal the potency of data-driven journalism in taking an investigative role, dealing with surreptitious data on instance,” the journalist intoned. “Otherwise called “ddj”, “computer-assisted reporting” (CAR), or “precision journalism”, the later based on a book by Philipp Meyer, published in 1972, this form of journalism was campaigned for the use of techniques from social sciences in researching stories.”

Many Nigerian journalists have won awards locally and internationally, but certainly not in data driven investigations, which has appeared to be a mystery to many, although not fault of theirs. But the unfavourable governments at all levels that have not made strict efforts to reaching this new approach of service for the public like assisting shoppers, executives, officials to appreciate strategies and make pronouncements based on the findings.

Connoisseurs in the media profession in Nigeria consulted for this investigation, said that this area of the 5th Estate in the business of Nigeria is not flourishing, because of the lack of in-depth information and many of the investigative reporters in the country, do not know how to obtain, clean, and analyse “prearranged information” in this digital world; those who know do not have the availability of the necessary software needed to carry on this onerous task.

How to come out of the conundrum:
A select group of journalists at a conference in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, droned that the country must initiate a programme like the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting, which is a project of Investigative Reporters and Editors, launched in 1989, which trains reporters around the world on how to use data, as part of broader investigations.

According to them, manuals on data journalism have to be created for journalists in the country to master the art of interrogating and questioning numbers knowledgeably. They also said that Nigeria has to queue in to the programme of the International Journalists’ Network, and maintain blogs of the latest trainings, tools and resources, for journalists in the country to be using data effectively.

Odimegwu Onwumere, a Poet/Writer, writes from Rivers State.
Tel: +2348057778358
Email: apoet_25@yahoo.com
www.odimegwuonwumere.wordpress.com

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