On the Media, Afghanistan: Reporting open data in Afghanistan

February 23, 2015

Original article found on: Journalism.co.uk

By: Catalina Albeanu; February 18, 2015

Credit: By Jorge Franganillo on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Credit: By Jorge Franganillo on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

“A lone man data journalist is not very tenable anywhere, let alone in some developing countries and conflict environments.”

So says data journalism adviser Eva Constantaras, who has been running data journalism workshops for local media in countries such as Afghanistan, as part of her work with the NGO Internews.

One project developed after Internews’ workshops is an investigation into Afghanistan’s drug trade by Rohullah Armaan Darwish, an investigative reporter at PAYK.

The first story in the series, looking at the country’s opium eradication programme, was published last week.

Constantaras told Journalism.co.uk part of Internews’ aim is helping media outlets in developing countries make the most of open data movements and platforms that are being set up, and also prepare for digital conversion.

She said the combination of low data literacy and an independent media landscape that’s not fully established yet means citizens in countries like Afghanistan are not demanding data driven stories from news outlets.

The workshops in Afghanistan were set up with the aim of getting journalists “more engaged in the accountability and transparency process,” and to showcase tools they can use to tell stories with data.

Internews works with journalists who want to explore subjects in-depth and who usually have a history in feature writing or investigations, said Constantaras.

She added that the best data journalists aren’t necessarily those who “are very good at math”.

“Really they might have never heard of data journalism but they’re already looking for the tools for actual quantifiable information about a sector or about a subject,” she explained.

Constantaras highlighted the language barrier as one of the main challenges journalists in Afghanistan face when working with data. There is a “crazy level of linguistic isolation,” she said.

“I’m not talking about they can’t code in Python. [With] most tools, the menus are in English. Even if the data is about Afghanistan, the data is still in English.”

Even if the data is about Afghanistan, the data is still in English
Eva Constantaras, Internews
She explained that even in the case of survey data where the questions were asked in the local language, the results are often translated into English before publication.

As most Afghani journalists do not speak English, she said, tools highlighted during the workshops include Infogram and Excel, whose menus are available in local languages, while Google Translate features heavily in their work.

Most data scraping programmes are also designed to work in English, she added.

While investigative or data-driven stories are published from Afghanistan, they are more likely to appear in English, targeted at an international audience.

But stories such as the drug trade investigative series address angles that would interest an Afghan audience, said Constantaras.

They are also designed to present a story in an accessible format – usually in print or on the radio, she explained.

She added that quality data-driven stories increase a media outlet’s credibility and reputation.

“Open data is a really new concept in Afghanistan. Can we channel that through trusted information channels, so through radio and some print [outlets] in Kabul, and have people access that information and make better decisions and be more aware of what the government is doing?”

While the workshops run by Internews cover tools like Infogram, which enables users to embed interactive graphics into online stories, Constantaras said reporters often save their data visualisations as static images to be published in print.

“That’s how people are consuming their news,” she said.

“[But] we also want them also to know how to make interactive data visualisations. It will just make them more competitive when digital conversion does happen.”

Original article found on: Journalism.co.uk

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