In order to conceptualize the ways in which data is permeating journalism practice, practitioners and researchers often focus on the instrumental value of data and its incorporation in existing journalistic processes. Data journalism and its many manifestations attempt to make use of databases – usually open data but also large sets of leaked documents – as a form of reporting by applying data analysis and new forms of data visualization as a storytelling technique. However, while the need for more 'scholarly narratives' of data journalism is being acknowledged, literature on the subject still focuses on models and examples in the West.
Indeed the focus on data-driven practices in North America and Europe are valid and illuminating on the new developments in journalism today, but they confine this emerging area to the old problematic of Western-centricism. Accordingly, the role of cross-cultural research, especially in the neglected Global South, is increasingly being acknowledged. We therefore argue here that there is need to integrate fresher perspectives and a broader overview of the wide range of uses of data by news organizations in journalistic cultures beyond the West.
This paper aims to map emerging data-driven practices and evaluate how they are shaping news journalism in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Departing from the theoretical epistemological and emotional implications of the datafication and affective turn of journalism, we conceptualize the context-specific underpinnings of data journalism while mapping the use of data in African nations. To do so this paper draws its empirical data from two case studies of 'continent-wide' data-driven projects: Code for Africa and Africa Check; as well as several ‘country-specific’ examples of data journalism. Here we study the instrumental uses of data, the actors that participate in the process of acquiring and selecting data, as well as the interactions and output within the media systems in Africa.
Our preliminary results show that while data journalism in African nations is still at its infancy, there are examples of sophisticated and widespread use of data journalism in some English-speaking countries in Africa. Additionally, we see a salient participation of Western third-party organizations offering data services to news media organizations, heralding a celebratory rhetoric of data as an empowering tool to hold to account those in power. Hence, apart from the visualization of data and the storytelling techniques, the most prominent use of data in journalism is that of a “watchdog” function. An activist approach to data, serving as a fact-checking tool against governments and other media organizations, seems to be context-specific. Data however are seldom problematized in terms of origin, quality, or degrees of openness.
This paper contributes to the existing body of literature on data journalism by expanding the study of data journalism beyond the Western perspective. We do so by mapping how data journalism manifests in Sub-Saharan African countries while taking into account the context-specific socio-cultural media system. Furthermore we conceptualize the notion of activist data journalism that advocates for the use of data as a fact-checking device and an empowering tool against the ruling power structures.
Africa Check, Code for Africa, data journalism, de-westernization, journalism practice