22 Pioneering Digital Media Projects Getting Paid To Tell Africa’s Stories And Hold Governments Accountable

22 Pioneering Digital Media Projects Getting Paid To Tell Africa’s Stories And Hold Governments Accountable

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InnovateAFRICA, a fund for digital journalism experimentation, has chosen 22 digital projects for $1-million in seed grants and technology support.

World Bank, Ford Foundation, Google NewsLab and Huffington Post are among the members of the jury who chose the winning projects.

The winning projects were chosen for trying to solve local problems using technology that have the potential to be scaled globally, according to Code for Africa. These include finding innovative ways to use bots, drones and sensors to improve journalism. They use technology to tackle issues ranging from frontline war reporting to fake news.

The fund is managed by Code For Africa, providing kickstarter funding to digital journalism pioneers. Code for Africa operates CitizenLabs across the continent to help fast-track digital transformation in newsrooms and social justice organisations.

The 22 projects were selected from 736 applicants in 49 African countries. Each proposal underwent a two-month technical review process. The 73 strongest ideas were evaluated by a jury of international experts.

Each project will receive seed grants of $12,500 to $100,000.

“We’ve selected some of the brightest innovators in this space to experiment with leapfrog technologies, but the real focus is to help teams build real-world solutions to real-world problems that can immediately be adopted and scaled by mainstream media companies and civil society,” said Justin Arenstein, innovateAFRICA founder, in a prepared statement.

Arenstein is a veteran South African investigative journalist and media entrepreneur. He’s recognized internationally as an expert in data-driven journalism and related new media technologies, according to the International Center for Journalists.

“The world is facing challenging political and socio-economic realities. We need the media and other civic watchdogs to provide the checks and balances needed to help us navigate an uncertain future,” said Ory Okolloh, juror and director of investments for Africa for Omidyar Networks. Okolloh co-founded the Ushahidi crowdmap platform, along with a string of other ‘hacktivist’ initiatives.

The winning projects include ways to report in hard-to-access places using drones, sensors or satellites; and new ways to harness artificial intelligence and web robots for improved news gathering and audience engagement. Several projects attempt to improve visual storytelling in Africa, combining cartoon illustrations with viral video techniques, data visualisations and immersive storytelling that includes 360-degree and virtual reality imagery, according to Code For Africa.

“These projects represent exciting new approaches to tackling the challenges that face today’s media, both in Africa and around the world,” said Jerri Eddings, a juror and senior program director at the International Center for Journalists. “The increasing threat of fake news is particularly troubling because it undermines the free flow of credible information that underpins modern societies. We need innovative solutions to such problems … innovateAFRICA has surfaced so many creative ideas for facing these challenges.”

InnovateAFRICA’s partners include Omidyar Network, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CFI, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), the Global Editors’ Network (GEN) and the World Bank.

These are the winning projects, in their own words. Click through for a full list of names of the people and organizations who chose them to receive funding.

Newspaper stand in Kano, Nigeria. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

OpenGazettes by AfriLII and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting: Nigeria

“Government gazettes are a goldmine of actionable information. We will liberate Nigeria’s gazettes by digitising and turning them into structured searchable data for free access by journalists, activists and business users.”


Overlay, by Paul Watson, formerly of Storyful: pan-Africa

“We will tackle fake news and ‘post-fact’ information in the news reportage by creating a journalist-sourced verification information network integrated directly into social media platform timelines.”

Photo: Kenya Online Journalists Association, kojanews.blogspot.com

NewsBot by Atchai, Star and Punch: Kenya and Nigeria

“We will pioneer rapid-deployment news gathering tools using Facebook/SMS-based chat-bots, that will help journalists quickly collect opinion data and eyewitness accounts though polls and surveys.”

M-Kopa solar powered radio. Photo: Allan Gichgi/M-Kopa/CNN

MeshNews by Outernet and DataZetu : Tanzania

“Much of Africa is still offline. Outernet will harness satellite and radio technologies to broadcast digital news and interactive data journalism content to rural audiences in Africa who don’t have traditional Internet coverage.”

Community health workers display their mobile phones and solar chargers. Photo: World Vision Sierra Leone

MembaO by Code for Sierra Leone: Sierra Leone

“We will build West Africa’s first data-driven platform that uses parliamentary records and investigative research to strengthen citizen oversight of elected politicians and Parliament itself.”

Students protest in 2015 on Wits University campus in Johannesburg. Photo: AFP/BBC

LiveWire by Grass Root Nation: South Africa

“Mainstream media is out of touch with grassroots communities. We will build on our popular petition and community mobilisation tools to create a crowdsourced ‘PR Wire’ service that alerts mainstream broadcast and print media about mass events (pickets, marches, protests) by grassroots communities.”

Photo: Senego.com

InfoFinder by AfricaCheck: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Senegal

“Africa is awash in unverified data. We will further develop AfricaCheck’s ‘info finder’ tool by expanding the number of pre-verified data sources to help media and the public to check claims.”

South African clinic. Photo: shout-africa.com

Hospital Helper by Health-E News: South Africa

“We will create South Africa’s first geo-data tools and journalism for checking the safety/ health rating of your local hospital or clinic, based on official government audits or inspection results.”

Mobile service providers sell product in Tanzania. Photo: halotel.tzshare.com

Graphic Journalism Hub by ONA Systems: Tanzania

“We will establish Africa’s first Graphic Journalism hub for visual storytelling, using graphic novel/comic animations, to produce news as mobile-optimised social video and graphic novels for multiple African media partners.”

Photo: Tom Bradley/ Institute for War and Peace Reporting

FRONTLINE by African Defence Review: South Africa

“We will transform the well-established African Defence Review (ADR) into an African version of Bellingcat that uses satellite images and other digital ‘open intelligence’ sources to shine a light on African war zones and the murky economies that fund conflict.”

Kenyan journalists protest in 2013 against increased government control over the press. Photo: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty

FOI Portal by mySociety and Article 19: East Africa, Kenya

“We will launch East Africa’s first online portal for Freedom of Information (FOI) requests in Kenya to help journalists and citizens use new access to information legislation to create high-impact public interest stories.”

Journalists cover the Oscar Pistorius trial in 2013. Photo: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

ENGAGE by the Engage Video Group: South Africa

“We will use our proven expertise at creating viral audiences around social video to build an African version of Buzzfeed/Vice that combines hard-hitting journalism with video-first formats.”

Tanzania Ports Authority workers at Dar es Salaam Harbour. Photo: comfix-engineering.com

DollarStreet Africa by Gapminder Foundation: Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania

“We live in a globally connected world. But we do not understand it, and it scares us. DollarStreet will expand its use of photos as data to show how people on same income level live very similar lives across Africa and the globe.”

A woman watches Nelson Mandela’s funeral on TV. Photo: Jonathan Torgovnik/Getty/TIME

DECLARE by Media Monitoring Africa: South Africa

“We will create Africa’s first interactive site for journalists and media organisations to disclose their interests to help combat conflicts of interest and to help fact-checkers identify credible media professions in their fight against fake news.”

A woman crosses foul water and garbage into a transit camp in Isipingo near Durban. By
Rogan Ward/Al Jazeera America

CitizenScience by Open Data Durban: South Africa

“We will create a citizen science network in Durban’s shantytowns that uses air and water quality sensors to boost data-driven science journalism and real-time civic activism, through a network of clubs at schools and civic labs for adults.”

A man reads newspaper headlines at a Kampala news-stand. Photo: Isaac Kasamani/AFP

CHECK by PesaCheck and Meedan: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda

“We will implement a cloud-based workflow system and collaborative workbench for the regional PesaCheck fact-checking network to improve news verification in three East African countries.”

Polyp cartoon. Photo: polyp.org.uk

#CartooNews by AfriCartoons: pan-Africa

“We will digitize the existing AfriCartoons archive of 1,000s of news cartoons and will redevelop our existing fanbase of 400,000 people on Facebook to supply African online audiences with ready-made and bespoke graphic content: editorial cartoons, comics, animations, caricatures, illustrations, and line-drawn infographics.”

Journalists covering an African Union meeting. Photo: African Union

Bot Starter-Kit by HEI-DA.org: pan-Africa

“We will develop an easy-to-use sensor journalism starter-kit for small-to-medium sized African newsrooms, that will include hardware/software, to help journalists establish their first ‘citizen data’ projects.”

Blast Tracker by Sophie Tremblay: Tanzania

“We will establish Africa’s first investigative sensor journalism initiative, installing underwater microphones along Tanzania’s coast to track and map explosions from dynamite fishing in real-time, supported by camera drones to speedily identify and track boats involved in the explosions.”

Photo: africasacountry.com

ATLAS by Quartz Africa/Atlantic Media: pan-Africa

“We will bring Quartz’s chart-building and data visualisation platform, Atlas, to newsrooms and organizations across Africa for free, and will build a database of Africa-focused data sources and visualisation templates to make data journalism more accessible.”

UNICEF partners with the Malawi government to test its first humanitarian drone in Africa. Photo: un.org/United Nations News Centre

africanDRONE by WeRobotics and UnequalScenes: pan-Africa

“We will establish Africa’s first drone journalism hub, in Tanzania, as the basecamp for the continent wide africanDRONE community of certified drone journalists, mappers, and story-tellers.”

Ovaherero protest their exclusion from formal genocide negotiations between Namibia and Germany, set to be concluded by September 2017. Photo: Alexander Honisch/Shiri Media/Al Jazeera

afriBOT by the European Journalism Centre and The Source: Namibia and Zimbabwe

“We will build an open source newsbot to help African news organisations deliver personalized news and engage more effectively with audiences via messaging platforms.”

Justin Arenstein, innovateAFRICA founder. Photograph by the TANZICT Project/medium.com

This is the independent jury whose members chose the digital media projects that will receive funding, according to Code for Africa:

1.) Jerri Eddings: International Center for Journalists (ICFJ)
2.) Mohamed Nanabhay: Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF)
3.) Ferial Haffajee: Huffington Post (South Africa)
4.) Taiwo Kola-Ongunlade: Google NewsLab
5.) Ory Okolloh: Omidyar Networks
6.) Azubuike Ishiekwene: Global Editors Network (GEN)
7.) Toby Shapshak: Stuff magazine
8.) Antoine Laurent: Fonds Pour l’innovation Numérique de la Presse (FINP)
9.) Samir Abdelkrim: StartupBRICS.com
10.) Florent Youzan: Agence Française de Coopération Médias (CFI Médias)
11.) Fatoumata Niang Niox: Jokkolabs Senegal
12.) Wilfried Rütten: European Journalism Centre (EJC)
13.) Craig Hammer: World Bank (Global Media Programme)
14.) Rosemary Okello-Orlale: Ford Foundation
15.) Nasr ul Hadi: ICFJ India
16.) Anthony Wafula: HiVOS East Africa
17.) Juliana Rotich: Africa Tech Ventures
18.) Sameer Padania: Macroscope