ADP, Raseef22 Hold 'Data Journalism in the Arab Region' Focus Group

Monday 10 April 201711:21 am
Enhanced open data facilities and increased provision of statistics in the Arab region offer journalists a fresh source of “interesting and new stories” that can contribute to unravelling societal controversies, highlighting political and economic marginalization and injustices, and offering readers an engaging platform on policy debates around key development issues. Recently, journalists in the Arab region have been paying more attention to the power of data as an investigative tool and as a driver for a promising platform. However, few initiatives have been launched in the Arab region to offer data-driven content, or what is referred to as “data journalism” to the readers, compared to the rising trend in Europe, Africa and Latin America. The Arab Development Portal, in collaboration with Raseef22, organized the first Media Focus Group Meeting on Data Journalism, on March 30, 2017 in Beirut. The focus group brought together 20 journalists and data journalism experts from Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Qatar, Bahrain, Germany, Turkey, and the US, and from leading organizations such as Al Jazeera Labs, The Guardian, and Internews, to discuss the status of data journalism in the Arab region. It further provided them with a platform to exchange experiences and best practices, and identify the needs of data journalists to fully reap the potential of the data revolution and new technologies. DAN_0340 The topic of increased interaction between journalists and various other fields, such as design, computer science and statistics was repeatedly brought up throughout the presentations and interventions of the participants. These included representatives from The Guardian, Al-Jazeera Labs, LBCI (Lebanon), Inkyfada (Tunisia), 7iber (Jordan), Visualizing Impact, Bayanat Box, Statista, Infotimes, Data Aurora, Al Jazeera Labs, LBCI (Lebanon), Inkyfada (Tunisia), 7iber (Jordan), Visualizing Impact, Bayanat Box, Statista, Infotimes, Data Aurora, Internews, Dağ Medya (Turkey), Mada Masr (Egypt), Violations Documentation Center (Syria), GreenArea, Sakker El Dekene (Lebanon), and the Arab Institute for Training and Research in Statistics (AITRS). “Newsrooms used to only have journalists. This is not the case anymore. Journalists now sit side by side next to programmers, designers and data analysts to produce a single report,” said Alaa Batayneh from Al Jazeera Labs. Batayneh also talked about the emergence of data journalism and how it succeeded in establishing a wide base of followers. From the supply side, the discussions focused on the process of production of data journalism content, sustainability of work flow, profiles of data journalists and team set-up, data journalism techniques and tools, and training needs. From the demand side, discussions addressed the relationship with the audience and impact of data journalism, in addition to the pros and cons of increased dependence on social media platforms for visibility. Addressing the challenges of data journalism in the Arab region, the participants agreed that access to raw data, trust in data, data use limitation, and the lack of data tools that support the Arabic language are the main factors behind slow-pace trend in the emergence of data journalism. This is in addition to limited human resources, low statistical capacities, limited funding, the structure of media ownership, and the journalism education curricula. DAN_0234 (1) The main challenge of data journalism in the Arab region is access to data, said Lina Ejeilat, co-founder of 7iber. “We do have access to reports enclosing data, but we don’t have access to raw data.” Moreover, Kais Zriba from Inkyfada, added that “we have relative access to data in Tunisia, but to what degree can we trust it?” The discussion also highlighted best practices and positive experiences. Eva Constantaras from Internews gave five tips to set up a sustainable data journalism teams: “Don’t reinvent the wheel, start with the data you have, start with the question not the data, it is about the story not the visualization, and don’t do it alone.” Moving forward, the participants emphasized the importance of developing data journalism in the region by investing in enhancing access to data through strengthening the relationship with data producers and supporting data portals. In addition, they highlighted the value of offering capacity-building to journalists in different areas, and developing open source visualization tools that are tailored to content in the Arabic language. At the end of this insightful day, and as summarized by Dyfed Loesche from Statista, “a genre that is truly digital, wherever it goes, data journalism will be part of the future.”  But it is not about the numbers only; “journalists should present statistics that allow people to find themselves in the story,” concluded Mona Chalabi from The Guardian. This article was originally published by the Arab Development Portal.
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