African News Innovation Winners Focus on Citizen Engagement, Investigative Tools and Whistleblower Security

Nov 282012

Twenty African media innovators will receive a total of $1 million to develop digital projects that improve the quality of news across the continent, as part of the first African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC).

Many recipients concentrated on enhancing citizen journalism, investigative reporting and source protection.

ANIC is the largest fund for digital journalism experimentation in Africa. It is designed to spur solutions to the business, distribution and workplace challenges facing the African news industry. The contest was organized by the African Media Initiative (AMI), the continent’s largest association of media owners and operators, and managed by Knight International Journalism Fellow Justin Arenstein. The fellowships are administered by the International Center for Journalists.

A jury of 15 international media strategists, technology innovators and other experts evaluated more than 500 project plans before selecting winners from a shortlist of 40 projects. Arenstein announced the winners in Kigali, Rwanda, on November 28, at the African Editors’ Forum annual meeting.

“Each of our winners tries to solve a real-world problem facing African journalists,” said Arenstein. “This includes the public’s growing concern about the manipulation of online content as well as security for whistleblowers or journalistic sources.”

Some winners will develop mobile apps that allow citizens to report on corruption, he noted. Others will create improved infographics that use data to better explain complex issues. Several focused on improving access to information, with projects such as beaming content into buses and taxis, or using drone aircraft to provide coverage of isolated communities.

Some recipients will develop technology that improves newsroom workflow systems and boost revenue.

Winners will receive grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, plus additional technology support from a team of four full-time developers at AMI’s jAccelerator lab in Kenya. They will also get business development mentoring from top media strategists affiliated with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). Ten of the winners will also be flown to the annual MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference in the United States, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

All projects have the potential to be replicated by media organizations throughout Africa, or to be scaled up across the continent to create broad and sustained impact.

“Finding and supporting great ideas for improving news reporting was one of our chief aims,” said AMI Chief Executive Amadou Mahtar Ba. “But an equally important objective was to kick-start a pan-African community of news innovators and journalism technologists. We are thrilled that ANIC has accomplished this goal. Now, people across the continent can work on collaborative projects that raise the skills and knowledge in the media industry.”

ANIC’s founding partners include Google, Omidyar Network, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Knight Foundation, the U.S. State Department, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and WAN-IFRA.

“We want to see journalism flourish in the digital age in Africa,” said Peter Barron, Google’s director of external relations for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “The African News Innovation Challenge has helped spur some really exciting projects from across the continent. We’re looking forward to seeing these projects unfold and to working further with African journalists who are using technologies to gather and tell important stories.”

The 2012 winners are:

1.) actNOW - Ghana A mobile application that empowers audiences to act on investigative reportage, by providing simple tools for citizens to organize themselves into civic action groups around issues reported by the media, or to petition government or corporations in response to journalistic exposés.

2.) AdBooker - South Africa An open-source, streamlined workflow management system for planning and managing media advertising. It will generate ad rates and manage bookings, artwork production and ad placements.

3.) Africa Check - South Africa/Nigeria A pan-African, non-partisan and crowdsourced fact-checking service that systematically verifies claims made in media reports. The project is intended to improve the accuracy and quality of reporting by exposing incorrect assertions by sources quoted in the media as well as errors in news stories.

4.) africanDRONE (renamed skyCAM) - Kenya/Nigeria A pilot project that establishes Africa’s first newsroom-based “eye in the sky” drones and camera-equipped balloons to help media that cannot afford news helicopters cover breaking news in dangerous situations or difficult-to-reach locations.

5.) Africa’s Wealth (renamed NewsStack) - Nigeria/Namibia A project to integrate a new generation of forensic data analysis tools such as DocumentCloud, Poderopedia, Overview and Mapa76, into a reusable journalist toolkit. The kit will be used in a yearlong, pan-African investigation by 10 media organizations into the continent’s extractive industries.

6.) Citizen Desk - Mozambique This toolkit that allows news organizations to create a mobile-optimized platform for aggregating, verifying, publishing and rewarding citizen journalism. The platform will be integrated into the widely used Superdesk production management system and serve as a way to incorporate citizen journalism into a news organization’s core workflow.

7.) Code4Ghana - Ghana This “kick-starter program” helps Ghanaian media experiment with data-driven journalism. It will provide access to data scientists and programmers, specialized training and a series of public “hackathons” designed to build news tools that take advantage of the new Ghana Open Data Initiative.

8.) ConvergeCMS - Kenya/Tanzania/Uganda An open-source and data-optimized editorial content management system and technical support program designed specifically for African media houses. It will help newsrooms centralize and manage content creation, dissemination, archiving and workflows.

9.) CorruptionNET - South Africa An open-source mobile platform that gives citizen reporters a step-by-step toolkit for filing journalistic reports to newsrooms about corruption or other abuses of public resources. The citizens can report using SMS or MXit, Africa’s largest social mobile network.

10.) DataWrapper - Nigeria/Senegal/Tanzania An initiative that establishes a network of full-fledged data visualization desks in forward-thinking newsrooms across Africa. It will help improve the use of interactive infographics and data-driven visual news apps, using the open-source DataWrapper toolkit plus other powerful graphic tools.

11.) End-to-End (renamed LastMile Crowdmapping) - Liberia/Ghana/Kenya A crowdsourced reporting tool built on top of the SourceMap.org platform to help African journalists and citizens tell complex investigative stories. This tool will visually map the people, places and events behind the “last mile” of supply chains, so that consumers can understand where goods originate in African industries such as cocoa or logging.

12.) FlashCast - Kenya This platform will beam hyperlocal news to commuters in taxis and buses, using smart, location-aware LED displays. It also allows the audience to use their mobile or other digital devices to engage in conversation about news items with viewers in other taxis and buses.

13.) Green Hornet - South Africa A plug-and-play toolkit for journalistic sources and whistleblowers, developed in collaboration with the Tor Project for use by investigative reporters in African newsrooms.

14.) ListeningPost - South Africa Africa’s first social media-focused newsroom will produce actionable information from citizen reporters. It will establish a customized Storyful dashboard that aggregates social media posts and will include mobile apps that commission and sell crowdsourced photos and news.

15.) MoJo: Keeping media honest by monitoring online journalism - South Africa A user-friendly toolkit of analytical software for African media-monitoring projects and other civic watchdogs. It will help improve media professionalism by keeping the media honest, detecting online censorship and exposing plagiarism.

16.) openAFRICA - Kenya/Nigeria/Rwanda/South Africa A digital document and knowledge management toolkit, coupled with the creation of a pan-African online archive, to house and search documents for investigative pieces. This kit will streamline freedom of information (FOI) requests to government agencies and then use semantic search and analysis tools to help journalists and the broader public assess these documents.

17.) ODADI (renamed Code4SouthAfrica) - South Africa An incubator for watchdog journalism that embeds data scientists and programmers into newsrooms to build new data desks and news APIs. The group will receive additional support from a local civic technology lab, which will provide trainers who help the reporters use data in stories.

18.) Oxpeckers - South Africa A narrative mapping project that uses satellite imagery and geographic data analysis in stories to expose cross-border criminals and syndicates damaging the environment through logging, poaching and ecological degradation.

19.) Wikipedia Zero - Cameroon/Ivory Coast/Tunisia/Uganda An initiative designed to boost original content from African news media for the new Wikipedia Zero mobile platform that is available free of charge to hundreds of millions of Africans, in 37 African languages, via either SMS or mobile phones.

20.) ZeroNews - pan-African A simple tool for African news publishers to disseminate their content, free of charge, on mobile channels, including Facebook Zero and various Google platforms, so that they can reach a new generation of mobile news consumers in a cost-effective way.


The International Center for Journalists advances quality journalism worldwide. Our hands-on programs, including the Knight International Journalism Fellowships, combine the best professional practices with new technologies. We believe that responsible journalism empowers citizens and holds governments accountable. For more information, go to www.icfj.org.

The African Media Initiative is the continent’s largest umbrella association of African media owners, senior executives and other industry stakeholders. AMI’s mandate is to serve as a catalyst for strengthening African media by building the tools, knowledge resources and technical capacity for African media to play an effective public interest role in their societies. This mandate includes assisting with the development of professional standards, financial sustainability, technological adaptability and civic engagement.