ICFJ President Barnathan Discusses South to South Innovation at GEN Summit

Jun 112014

On June 11, ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan spoke at the Global Editors Network (GEN) conference in Barcelona about how media innovation is spreading throughout the developing world.

Her remarks:

It’s a pleasure to be here in Barcelona at the GEN conference to talk about an important topic: how media innovation spreads around the world.

We generally think of technology transfers going in one direction: from the developed North to the developing South. When we redesigned our Knight International Journalism Fellowships, which foster a culture of news innovation, we anticipated customizing and spreading US technology around the world.

And we are. Our Knight Fellows, some of the most talented media entrepreneurs, are taking tools such as Document Cloud, Google Fusion Tables and Data Wrapper and embedding them in newsrooms. They have seeded local chapters throughout Latin America, Africa and the Middle East of the U.S. group Hacks/Hackers. Hack/Hackers brings together journalists and software engineers to develop new apps or solve digital media bottlenecks.

But something even more important has happened. The Knight Fellows have developed their own innovative tools and services— and through ICFJ’s network are spreading them throughout the developing world as well. Global organizations like GEN and ICFJ are in a strong position to get new digital technology developed in the South adopted rapidly around the world.

In this talk, I am drawing examples from our Knight Fellows. Brazilian Fellow Gustavo Faleiros developed InfoAmazonia to track environmental problems in the nine-country Amazon region. The website uses satellite and other public data to map environmental degradation, making it easy for journalists to detect problems such as deforestation and pollution.

Now Oxpeckers, a southern African organization, is using his technology to track poachers in protected wildlife regions. Reporting based on that site has already stopped an Asian poaching ring and led to agreements on poaching between African and Asian countries that import ivory, rhino horns and other spoils.

A Kenyan group is creating another map, LandQuest, to map oil and water interests and what is happening to profits from these investments.

An Indonesian environmental journalism group adapted Faleiros’ technology to create Ekuatorial, a site that maps degradation of oceans, forest fires and other problems in the fourth most populous country in the world.

From Brazil to South Africa to Kenya to Indonesia. Amazing.

Another example: Knight Fellow Shu Choudhary’s mobile news service in India brings reports by trained citizen journalists to poor and isolated tribal communities. The service can take credit for more than 250 major changes resulting from these stories, from unpaid teachers getting their salaries restored to the arrests of wife-abusers.

Choudhary developed the project with help from Microsoft Research and MIT. The Microsoft developers have built upon Choudhary’s success to create IVR Junction. IVR Junction expands on Shu’s original mobile news service idea by linking these stories to social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. This helps disseminate the coverage to an influential diaspora, which can then agitate for better policies.

Shu’s mobile news network is expanding to other parts of India and the IVR technology is also in use in Mali and Somaliland.

Another example of South-to-South collaboration: Our former Knight Fellow Jorge Luis Sierra (now director of our Knight Fellowships program) launched a project using crowd-sourcing to map threats and attacks against journalists in Mexico. Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to practice our profession. He also developed a widely used online handbook in Spanish on digital security for journalists.

Sierra recently traveled to Iraq to provide digital security training to journalists in another dangerous country for reporters. When he showed them the Mexico map, Iraqi journalists asked Sierra to help them develop one for Iraq. He did so, on the spot. And in a new program, Sierra and ICFJ will help Iraqi journalists develop a database of threats against freedom of expression and expand the map to visually display this data.

From Mexico to the Middle East.

In Eastern Europe, ICFJ and its partners have developed investigative reporting tools as part of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). Co-founder Paul Radu began developing the Investigative Dashboard when he was an ICFJ Knight Fellow. The Dashboard allows journalists with limited data skills to easily mine databases or seek help from data experts. ICFJ also developed the Secure Reporter platform so that journalists can share information across borders without fear of hackers, backed by hostile drug lords or repressive governments, gaining access to it.

The Investigative Dashboard and Secure Reporter are now in use in ICFJ’s new eight-country Latin American investigative reporting project. We have translated the tools into Spanish, and hired a data researcher to work with Latin American investigative reporters.

Knight Fellow Justin Arenstein has also started the Code for Africa movement. Developed in Kenya and expanded to South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria, this movement embeds technologists into newsrooms to train journalists how to mine and visualize data for stories. They also help the news organizations design mobile apps that expand access to news.

Among the services developed in Kenya was GotToVote. The technologists used government data to build a website that gave Kenyans information on how and where to register to vote. It boosted voter registration in the 2013 presidential elections. And it has also been used successfully in Zimbabwe and Malawi as well.

ICFJ is expanding the “Code for” movement to Latin America, with a Knight Fellow to begin working in Mexico this summer. Next stop: Pakistan, where the use of digital technology in newsrooms is lagging.

Our Knight Fellow Mariano Blejman, who has launched a huge Hacks/Hackers chapter in Buenos Aires also developed a tool called Hackdash. It’s a free and open source platform that lets Hackathon organizers better manage new ideas. It’s in use from Finland to Nepal, from the U.S. to Uruguay. In other words, it represents South to North innovation.

One final example. Chicas Poderosas, a group founded by Knight Fellow Mariana Santos, aims to get Latin American women involved in media technology. We all know how technology is transforming our business, but women are grossly underrepresented as news innovators or technologists. Chicas already has 800 members—and held its first U.S. gathering in April. Again, South to North innovation.

It is tremendously exciting to see the spread of great tools, networks and services in the name of quality journalism. We will post a list of the tools in case you are interested in adopting them at your news organizations. And of course, we love to hear about tools that you have created. We will do our best to integrate them in our work around the world.