Data journalism is a growing practice in newsrooms across the globe. Getting data from various sources, journalists are constantly experimenting and practicing data-driven journalism. This practice is not confined to newsrooms; however, other peripheral actors, such as nonprofits and civic technology organizations, practice data journalism.
Similarities exist between data journalists and civic technologists because they both rely on data, use similar tools and services for their work, and aspire to empower citizens. They also complement each other: Civic technologist can develop tools for journalists or provide technical skills and expertise to them, while investigations by journalists can spark ideas for new civic tech applications.
David Cheruiyot and Raul Ferrer-Conill of the Department of Geography, Media and Communication at Karlstad University in Sweden, and Stefan Baack of the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society conducted a study to understand how peripheral actors to data journalism understand their role, and how they relate to professional journalism in a transnational perspective. The authors interviewed 29 practitioners of data-driven nonprofits in 13 countries of Europe and Africa.
Results showed that civic technologists seek to complement journalism’s role as a gatekeeper by facilitating others; for example, they want to enable both members of the public and journalists to act more effectively. But unlike legacy news organizations where journalists have a goal of “finding stories” in data, civic technologists in the UK and Germany do not see their roles as story finders. A participant said, “We don’t have that kind of editorial activist wing, we don’t have a message to push, so we’re not looking for one.” Rather they defined themselves as the “tool supplier”; in other words, they provide training for other NGOs and journalists to teach data skills.
On the other hand, civic tech organizations in Africa position themselves as alternative data journalism organizations to support journalism and promote data-driven projects through civic-oriented approaches in the continent. A respondent explained, “One underlining points that occurs to all our projects is training and trying to build capacity in journalists to handle data themselves and bringing together our innovation fellows who in turn work with the journalist to either build capacity or develop charts or develop tools that they can use. So, one underlining thing for us is really building the digital capacity of journalist and news houses.”
In the practice of data journalism, civic technologists also promote a vision of public or citizen-oriented journalism through creating guidelines, training kits and tools to be used by aspiring citizen journalists.
To read the full text of the study: https://bit.ly/2PiPXFv
Cheruiyot, D., Baack, S., & Ferrer-Conill, R. (2019). Data Journalism Beyond Legacy Media: The case of African and European Civic Technology Organizations. Digital Journalism, 1-15.