New Program to Emphasize Data, Engage Citizens in Storytelling

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) and its partner Code for Africa have launched a sweeping program to promote data-driven investigative reporting in Africa that engages audiences and gets the attention of policymakers on health and other development issues.

The project, called Impact Africa, will unfold in a series of reporting contests that will spur hundreds of news reports that use digital storytelling techniques to uncover abuses and trigger remedies. Supported by a $900,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Impact Africa will target six key countries – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. ICFJ’s Knight International Journalism Fellows will lead the initiative.

“This project will help African journalists take advantage of the new technologies to move investigative reporting to a new level,” said ICFJ President Joyce Barnathan. “It will be harder to hide from scrutiny issues that affect the health and well-being of African citizens.”

The program builds on ICFJ’s previous work in Africa, putting together teams of journalists and technologists who are redefining how journalism is practiced in newsrooms around the continent. Impact Africa will be led by ICFJ’s chief digital strategist, Knight International Journalism Fellow Justin Arenstein. As a Knight Fellow, Arenstein founded Code for Africa, which develops tools to harness troves of complicated data and make them useful to the public through mobile apps and interactive websites. “Our aim is to make journalism truly relevant to ordinary people,” said Arenstein. “It needs to tackle the issues that keep people awake at night like how to keep your children safe, healthy and educated. Media organizations have to discover what their audiences really care about and then develop journalism that gives the audience actionable information.”

The 18-month program will unfold along two tracks. The first series will focus on the production of in-depth investigative reporting on neglected or underreported development issues. The goal is to develop ambitious projects that serve as models for journalists across the continent. Calls for application will begin in January 2016.

Code for Africa technologists will work with participants to build innovative story projects, using interactive mapping, mobile applications and other creative digital tools. For the investigative story contest, there will be an award given for best service journalism, best investigative report, and best data-driven story. The winners and their newsrooms will receive cash prizes.

The second series involves content-specific story contests that focus on health and development topics such as vaccines, infectious diseases, maternal health, agriculture and sanitation. An award will be given in each of three categories -- best community impact, best audience engagement, and best use of data. The three winners will receive a study tour to the United States.

$100,000 of this grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will support the upcoming InnovateAfrica challenge that will provide seed funding to create or scale projects that promise to transform the way African media operate.

The International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) is at the forefront of the news revolution. Our programs empower journalists and engage citizens with new technologies and best practices. ICFJ's networks of reporters and media entrepreneurs are transforming the field. We believe that better journalism leads to better lives. For more information, go to

Code for Africa is the continent’s largest network of civic technology and open data organizations, with partner programs in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Homepage slideshow image CC-licensed by Flickr via the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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