Knight International Journalism Fellowships

Sub-Saharan Africa: Spurring Innovation and Experimentation in Newsrooms


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Knight International Journalism Development Fellow Justin Arenstein is working to develop a cellular communications system that can relay news to citizens of sub-Saharan Africa.

Justin Arenstein is a Knight International Journalism Fellow who is helping the African Media Initiative (AMI) to establish a digital innovation program that supports experimentation in newsrooms across Africa. AMI, the continent's largest association of media owners and executives, is working with more than 600 of the most influential media companies in both northern and sub-Saharan Africa.

Arenstein is serving as an ideas catalyst and “match-maker” by leveraging his deep links within the African media industry and his entrepreneurial networks to generate disruptive ideas. The goal: to pioneer African thought-leadership, the best global technologies, and resources that enable journalists and others to share news and information. His flagship projects at AMI include:

  • The annual $1 million African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC). The Challenge aims to kickstart an “innovation ecosystem” on the continent through seed funding to create or scale projects that promise to transform the way African media operate. This includes projects designed to significantly improve existing technologies, as well as completely new ways for journalists to gather news, tell stories, engage with audiences, and sustain media organizations.
  • AMI's new Prototype Fund. The Fund supports smaller, fast-track digital or mobile pilot projects in African newsrooms that are not yet ready for ANIC or other traditional grants. This includes high-risk experiments to produce proof-of-concept prototypes, as well as technology-adaption programs to reuse or customize existing digital solutions for Africa.
  • The Code4Africa initiative. This program aims to help media leapfrog into a data-driven future. Media owners will explore data-based revenue models, while their newsrooms experiment with open-data technologies to drive data journalism and news that serves the public. The pilot program includes the ground-breaking Code4Kenya fellowship, which will embed open-data technologists in newsrooms. An affiliated jAccelerator Lab will help African media that don’t have in-house coders develop customized technology solutions and platforms.
  • The Ujuzi (knowledge) program. This program will run a series of pioneering Media Leader Roundtables: strategy sessions for top media executives. Ujuzi will include other digital-literacy and skills-development workshops. Among them: three-day bootcamps focusing on data journalism for newsroom staff, “scraperthons” and hackathons to make public data accessible to media, and MBA-style seminars.
  • A network of Hacks/Hackers chapters across Africa. Hacks/Hackers is bringing together innovative journalists, bloggers and social media users with coders, digital designers and user-interface experts. These chapters are creating a community that collaborates on joint projects during monthly meetups and/or hackdays.
  • The IMAGE platform. This shared-technology platform will be built from modules including a suite of “plug-and-play” data-collection and knowledge-management tools, a 'source code' store, membership-management and event-management solutions, and website templates for AMI project partners and Africa’s wider media-development sector.
  • The African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR). The Network will strengthen existing centers of journalistic excellence by using pooled funding to offer technology solutions, data resources, research support, advanced skills training and opportunities for collaborative, transnational projects.

Arenstein's role at AMI also includes building partnerships with other international technology and media-innovation groups to improve information sharing, reduce duplication and boost impact through co-funded projects.

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    04/02/2012