Justin Arenstein

Africa: Driving News Innovation

Digital media strategist Justin Arenstein is an ICFJ Knight Fellow who focuses on transforming Africa’s media landscape through the introduction of new tools and technologies to improve coverage of issues critical to the lives of Africans. He is doing this through Code for Africa, the continent's open data and civic technology pioneer. Established by Arenstein with support from ICFJ, Code for Africa helps media adopt new forms of storytelling -- from interactive maps to drones -- and better engage audiences in the news.

Arenstein leads a team of ICFJ Knight Fellows who drive the initiative, working in four regional hubs in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania. They have overseen the establishment of data desks at major newsrooms to enhance coverage and empower citizens; built networks of journalists and technologists who collaborate on in-depth stories about issues vital to Africans, and launched a fact-checking movement that is helping to hold governments accountable and counteract fake news.

Through this initiative, African media are starting to harness data and use digital tools in new ways to better cover issues that affect the health and prosperity of people across the continent.

Among projects Arenstein is leading through Code for Africa:

  • innovateAFRICA-- a $1 million media innovation challenge that sparked the use of new technologies such as drones, satellites and web robots for news gathering, storytelling and civic engagement. The challenge funded 17 major projects that also strive to improve visual stories, using viral video, cartoon illustrations, data visualizations and immersive techniques such as 360° and virtual reality imagery.
  • impactAFRICA-- a continent-wide storytelling fund that led to data-driven coverage of topics ranging from phony drugs in Kenya, to polluted drinking water in Nigeria, to services for rape victims in South Africa. The challenge provides grants, technical support and strategic mentorship to stories selected through a competitive process.
  • The African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (ANCIR) -- a network of nearly two dozen newsrooms across Africa that work on cross-border investigative projects on issues such as government or corporate corruption and environmental degradation. They played a key role in the Panama Papers investigation, producing 43 stories for the project, which exposed havens used by the world’s elites to hide billions of dollars in wealth.
  • StoryLab Academy -- a pan African training program that combines newsroom workshops and online courses and resource materials to improve digital journalism skills. The program is operated with support from Google News Labs and the World Bank, and partners with 36 African newsrooms in key cities across the continent. The academy trained more than 800 journalists and technologists in 30 newsrooms 2017. 

Highlights of his impact:

  • In Kenya, authorities raided a string of Nairobi pharmacies after an impactAFRICA-funded investigative series identified outlets selling dangerous fake drugs. As part of the project, Business Daily in Nairobi used lab testing to show that a medicine lacked the antimalarial ingredients it promised. This led to a recall of the medicine.
  • In Nigeria, an investigative report funded through an impactAFRICA grant led the government to shut down four bottling plants for failing to comply with standards for production of drinking water. The Nation newspaper produced the series called Sketchy Sachet Water on the perils of drinking packaged water sold on the streets of Lagos.
  • In South Africa, the environmental journalism initiative Oxpeckers produced an award-winning series of data-driven investigations exposing the effects of mine closures on surrounding communities. Following publication, the government of South Africa drafted new legislation on financial provisions for mine closures to help better regulate the industry. Oxpeckers, a Code for Africa grantee, was created with support from innovateAFRICA’s predecessor, the African News Innovation Challenge.

Arenstein is an award-winning South African journalist and media strategist. He is recognized internationally as an expert in data-driven journalism and related new media technologies. He is the founder of Code for Africa, and previously was co-founder of the pioneering independent news wire agency African Eye News Service (AENS). In addition to his work as an ICFJ Knight Fellow, he serves as a consultant to Google, advising the technology giant on data-driven journalism and digital newsroom strategies in Africa.

Other ICFJ Knight Fellows working across Africa are: 

Catherine Gicheru, editorial specialist

David Lemayian, technology lead

Omar Mohammed, digital media specialist

Jacopo Ottaviani, data and multimedia specialist

Chris Roper, engagement specialist