Big Stories Hidden in Numbers

“Prior to this training, I thought data journalism was all about calculations and, since I dislike math, I did not even see the importance of learning it. However, I have realized that I was missing something of great importance,” said Aurea Simtowe from Mwananchi newspaper who believes the new skills will help her find big stories hidden in numbers.

Eight Tanzanian journalists from national media houses attended a three-day training on data journalism led by Nuzulack Dausen under Internews’ Boresha Habari project. The goal was to equip participants with data scraping, cleaning and analyzing techniques but also to share data resources to help them disseminate reliable information without violating Tanzania’s Statistic Act, 2015.

Recent amendments to the Statistics Act, 2015 make it a criminal offence to publish official statistics without the authorization from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). It also prevents individuals from communicating any information that contradicts or challenges official statistics.

To strengthen their capacity in collecting, analyzing and visualizing data, all journalists worked collectively to retrieve data from NBS, process and write news stories based on the data.

“Data journalism helps media practitioners avoid being sources of fake news, cultivating the tradition of filtering and visualizing what is happening beyond what the eye can see,” emphasized Dausen who runs his own data journalism portal. “I did not expect we could get a great news story just by looking at these figures. I will make sure to pass it on to other journalists,” said Ali Mwadini, a media trainer based in Zanzibar.

The training participants will be able apply their new data skills under the trainer’s mentorship. Those who successfully publish data journalism stories in the next couple of months will be invited to an advanced session to address problems they discovered during practice.

“We must learn data journalism to improve content and provide people with complete and reliable information,” said Joyce Shebe, Chief Editor of Clouds Media.

Hassan Dambaya from Radio Uhuru FM admitted that he always wrote stories without analyzing data. However, he promised that “From today, my stories will be different from others’ who have not received this training; it has indeed come at the right time.”

Alex Kazenga, a reporter with Jamhuri newspaper acknowledged that while Tanzania’s Statistic Act suppresses freedom of expression, the training is vital for journalists, “I will use data from sources that are recognized so that I do not end up in trouble with the law.”

Across the world, Internews is growing open data communities to help people understand data, what it means, and why it matters. Internews’ project in Tanzania, Boresha Habari, is funded by USAID, and implemented in partnership with FHI 360. It seeks to support an open, inclusive environment in which media and civil society provide accurate and impartial information that promotes participation, inclusion, and accountability. A core focus of this activity is the engagement and empowerment of women and youth in order to elevate their voices, influence, and issues in the public sphere as both producers and consumers of information.

By Temigunga Mahondo, Internews Trainer, Tanzania