Technology is thriving in Africa. In just over a decade, the region has become one of the most connected via mobile, experiencing the fastest growth in mobile subscribers. The world’s tech giants are investing in the region. And an active tech community is pioneering ways to rewire the media.
But you wouldn’t necessarily know it from reading the news.
In Africa, “technology is largely reported under 'Business News',” says Alex Gakuru, Creative Commons Regional Coordinator for Africa and a Steering Committee Member of the Kenya Media Programme. “A few media outlets have 'Science and Tech' or 'Innovation' categories, but they’re often full of technology [PR] reports from agencies.”
According to Gakuru, this is due to the complexity of tech themes and a politics-driven news agenda, among other reasons. Because few media houses, or media outlets, have dedicated technology writers, journalists have to play catch-up when investigating and reporting complex tech stories.
The latest round of the African Story Challenge hopes to change the way African journalists report on business and technology. The contest, run by the African Media Initiative (AMI) and led by former ICFJ Knight International Journalism Fellow Joseph Warungu, will award grants of up to US$20,000 for investigative, digital and data-driven stories on key African business and tech issues. Winners will also get training and mentorship to help them refine their ideas and create stories with lasting impact.
Gakuru, a panelist at a recent African Story Challenge event, talked with IJNet about how reporters can improve their tech coverage.
IJNet: In your opinion, what is missing from tech coverage in Africa?
AG: Tech coverage is [failing to cover] highly disputed topics. For instance, Edward Snowden's revelations of massive online spying by the NSA and Wikileaks weren’t covered from the African perspective. Fundamental rights violations and consumer exploitations by corporations are rarely covered. Neither are inspiring, simple stories on how tech is powerfully transforming life skills, varied articles demonstrating technology as an instrument to achieve human rights and social justice, or stories that expose technology’s ugly underbelly.
It would be interesting to read more about public service tech excellence. The public sector is generally reported negatively, for example, with stories about alleged nepotism or favoritism in hiring, corruption scandals, systems failures, etc. Also, I’d like to see more on the role of technology in facilitating effective governance and well-researched journalism pieces shifting from perception-based to data-based reporting.
IJNet: Do you have tips for journalists who lack experience working with cross-platform approaches and interactive applications?
AG: Engage Internet search engines, study research methodologies and polish investigative journalism skills. I would recommend reading this guide to media law for investigative journalism and this one on Cross-Examination For Investigative Reporters. Also, reach out to tech savvy friends to learn about various tech platforms and types of software and applications.
IJNet: How can journalists make readers “care” about technology news?
AG: The journalist must write for the reader; news must speak to needs of the reader. The journalist should easily relate a problem to a tech solution. Always make sure the featured tech is respectful of audience culture, values, norms and practices. Demonstrate that technology is subservient to humans (avoid irritating super-human tech fantasies). And most of all, embark on a storyline that you find personally interesting.
IJNet: And lastly, can you share some basic tips for tech reporting?
AG: Avoid any topic that runs the risk of being read as surreptitious solicitation or advertising. Avoid technical lingo and incomprehensible acronyms. Make it fun to read. Test your draft among a group and assess the reception. Speak to, represent and amplify the commoner's voice.
To learn more about the Story Challenge and to apply, click here.
Jessica Weiss is a Bogotá-based writer.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nick Harris under a Creative Commons license.