The release of crime statistics from all police stations across South Africa is an example of Data (driven) journalism.
Journalists use computers to analyse large amounts of data like the crime statistics, making it easier to decipher for readers (to use as or in a news story).
To use the data effectively, you will have to get to grips with numbers (journalists are not exactly known for their good maths skills) and what they represent. Large chunks of data means nothing unless you compare it to previous or present data or use it to substantiate your news story.
When I think of data I think of coding and programming, etc. But using data is as simple as using Crime Statistics SA to find out which neighbourhood has the most burglaries – you’ll find out which area is the safest to live in and which areas you should avoid.
Code for Africa (CfAfrica) focuses on newsrooms to shift the power dynamics, to ensure that journalists report on news accurately,using data to verify their story and making it available to the public for transparency purposes or if they’d like to engage with you and your data.
CfAfrica chief strategist Justin Arenstein believes ‘the media has lost touch with real people’, but I disagree. By using the data, we are able to determine which news stories interests the public and why. Arenstein also says that:
‘Our aim is to make journalism relevant again to ordinary people. Journalism needs to tackle the issues that keep people awake at night’
He seems to be saying what everyone else believes as African data journalism is set to receive a funding boost. This video shows Justin Arenstein talking about the very first cadet school for data journalism.
Organisations like CfAfrica provide workshops on coding as it is a vital tool in this day and age and it could be the thing that holds ministers accountable. As was the case when it came to the salaries of municipalities managers. The salary that some ministers received was so much that it put unnecessary strain on taxpayers and the economy. Managers in smaller municipalities earned much more money than they should have, if their salaries were determined by the size of their community.
This would not have been discovered had a journalist not taken the initiative to find out how much they earned in comparison to the size of the community they were working in and to compare it to other municipality managers (in bigger or smaller communities).
Although this post deals primarily with data in connection to journalism, it also helps citizens to help themselves.There might be a problem that you think you are facing on your own, but in the grand scheme of things it might be a problem that nobody else has thought of investigating. For example, there might have been a lot of deaths concerning school buses. To find the root of the problem you have to ask the right questions – Who employs these drivers? Why they employ these drivers? Are they certified drivers?etc.
Fortunately for us, journalists have to constantly ask questions. Now, it’s a matter of asking the right questions as there’s an abundance of information on the internet, but not all of it is accurate.