Sub-Saharan Africa: Strengthening Storytelling Through Digital Innovation

ICFJ and its Knight Fellows are driving news innovation, data journalism and digital experimentation across Africa to deepen coverage and engage citizens on issues that matter to their health and well-being.

They are doing this through Code for Africa, a data journalism initiative founded in 2012 by Knight Fellow Justin Arenstein in collaboration with ICFJ. Code for Africa, the continent's data journalism and civic technology pioneer, is designed to spark the use of open data and digital tools by media and NGOs to better engage citizens, improve government accountability and enhance public services.

Through this initiative, media are harnessing data in new ways to build compelling journalistic projects, using strong mobile and interactive web components. The Fellows are helping them to experiment with drones, sensors and other web and mobile toolkits to surface hidden stories and drive systematic change in media, government and society. 

To achieve this, the Fellows employ a range of strategies that include: 
  • Creating and expanding CitizenLabs that build digital tools for journalism and help media to adopt them
  • Embedding developers and data journalists in media to enhance their use of data
  • Connecting communities of journalists and technologists through groups like Hacks/Hackers to spark collaboration and sharing of ideas
  • Building networks of women data journalists who are changing the digital media landscape 
  • Leading boot camps and other events that build skills, and create teams and projects to jumpstart the use of data
Among major projects: 
  • impactAFRICA, a continent-wide storytelling fund that has led to hundreds of data-driven, investigative stories on health and development topics ranging from phony drugs in Kenya, to polluted drinking water in Nigeria, to the impact of drought on farmers and food security in South Africa. 

  • innovateAFRICA, a $1 million program that has provided funding and mentorship for 17 media projects in 10 countries to experiment with drones, sensors, satellites, artificial intelligence and web robots for news gathering, storytelling and civic engagement. 

  • PesaCheck, a data-driven, fact-checking service that helps citizens and journalists in East Africa verify official statements and track public spending on everything from schools to local clinics. The service, which is combating fake news and misinformation, provided live fact-checking during the October 2017 rerun of Kenya’s recent controversial presidential election.

  • Data-Driven Journalism: ICFJ Knight Fellows are helping news partners across Africa improve data journalism skills and establish data desks.  This includes the first data news desk and platform in Tanzania, launched in 2016 at the Swahili-language Mwananchi news outlet. 

  • Data Women’s Networks: ICFJ’s Knight Fellows have also led efforts to build vibrant networks of women journalists with data reporting skills. These networks are changing the digital media landscape in Africa, bringing more gender diversity and spurring an increase in data-enhanced coverage of issues like maternal health, quality of schools and human trafficking. The groups include the Naija Data Ladies, nearly two dozen journalists who work for major media organizations in Nigeria; and WanaData, a similar network of women journalists working in Kenya and Tanzania. Plans are underway to expand the network to South Africa in 2018.
  • Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): Under the guidance of our Knight Fellows, Code for Africa launched Africa’s first digital journalism training platform, which offers six courses -- Data Journalism, Investigative Reporting, Multimedia Storytelling, Verification, Geo-journalism, and Digital Security. By the launch date in March 2018, 3,830 journalists had registered to take the courses, which are offered free of charge. The MOOC is the supported by Google News Lab and the World Bank’s Global Media Development Program.

The members of the ICFJ Knight Fellows team in Africa are:
  • Justin Arenstein, a South African media entrepreneur who serves as Code for Africa’s director, is providing pan-African vision and connecting it to his other initiatives for greater regional impact.
  • Catherine Gicheru, a veteran investigative journalist, is working to transform media coverage of health and development issues in East Africa by introducing new digital and data-focused tools, like Dodgy Doctors and PesaCheck, to local newsrooms.
  • David Lemayian, the initiative’s lead technologist, oversees the development of Code for Africa’s journalistic tools and software. His projects help local newsrooms produce innovative storytelling and increase engagement with their audiences across platforms.
  • Jacopo Ottaviani, an Italian journalist and computer scientist, spearheads Code for Africa’s multimedia and data-driven story production.
  • Chris Roper, Code for Africa’s audience engagement specialist, is deputy director of Code for Africa. A veteran South African editor, he is also the lead organizer of Media Indaba, which brings together some of the world’s most innovative journalists to share ideas.