Tanzania’s first data news platform sets off a ripple effect in digital storytelling

byIrene Wangui
Jun 12 in Data Journalism
Tanzania

In 2017, Tanzania’s leading daily newspaper, Mwananchi, launched the country’s first online data-driven news platform — a move that has inspired enthusiasm for data journalism and digital storytelling throughout Tanzania’s media community.

Since the data platform’s launch, it has published more than 100 data-driven stories on topics that include malaria, a shortage of teachers in public schools, corruption in government and the dangers of farming along river banks. The data platform’s impact has been far reaching, both within and beyond the Mwananchi newsroom. For example, a story on a shortage of teachers in public schools exposed the fact that some schools were not following a government mandate that the student-to-teacher ratio be no more than one teacher to 40 students. As a result, the government took action, posting more teachers to Chohero Primary School, a public school in Mvomero district that had been featured in the story.

The platform, which complements Mwananchi’s main news site, was developed with the help of ICFJ Knight Fellow Omar Mohammed and a team of technologists at Code for Africa. It features in-depth stories and data visualizations that allow journalists to provide depth and detail that print journalism doesn’t allow. The platform was largely set up by former Mwananchi journalist Nuzulack Dausen after he attended several of Code for Africa’s data journalism trainings.

“Data journalism strengthens the media’s credibility, as our stories are now backed by statistics,” Dausen says. “We can use this to drive real change in society.”

Dausen started out with the goal of producing at least one data story a week to be published in Mwananchi’s daily print and online editions. He soon discovered that its website could not hold the multimedia elements commonly found in data journalism pieces, including visualizations, satellite imagery, maps, videos and animated text. Nuzulack worked with Code for Africa’s Tanzania team, led by Mohammed, to build the data platform and provide data journalism training to a larger team at Mwananchi that would drive content on the platform. To strengthen these efforts, Dausen set up an easily accessible data archive in the newsroom to encourage journalists to use data in their stories.

“From an initial 10 reporters trained on data journalism, scores more emerged who wanted to learn the new techniques,” says Dausen.

Reporters learned that their stories were no longer limited by space; and that they could do more in-depth work with interactive mapping and visualization. Moreso, Mwananchi gained recognition as a pioneer in data storytelling, which further entrenched the culture within the company, spreading the practice to Mwananchi’s sister publication The Citizen and sports newspaper Mwanaspoti.

“This created a ripple effect within the news industry in Tanzania where almost all major newsrooms wanted to do data-driven stories, and Code for Tanzania received several requests for data journalism training,” says Mohammed, who has ended his ICFJ Knight Fellowship and now works for Reuters.

Mwananchi is currently in the process of developing a second platform, dedicated to data-driven health content. The platform will also host a suite of health tools including a hospital and pharmacy finder, a medicine price checker, and a chatbot that can provide members of the public with instant information on reproductive health.

Dausen recently received the Best Data Journalist award at the 2017 Tanzania Media Council’s Excellence in Journalism Awards. His work on the data platform earned him the role of data editor at Mwananchi, before he left the organization to work as a data and digital journalism trainer and consultant. Dausen hopes that data journalism desks will become the new normal in more newsrooms across Tanzania.

Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via Beyond Access