I have always been inspired by a statement made by Mrs. Grace Ifill, a journalist who worked for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). She once said, “We live in a world that is extreme, often petty argument, where we hide behind our devices to insult one another in a way that we would not face-to-face.
Technology is fabulous but this is not what it is for, we have to harness our thinking to add to the debates around us… not to debase them.”
This statement shows how technology poses several challenges when misused, yet when applied correctly is such a valuable resource for the media today. Mrs. Ifill’s work is such a motivation when it comes to seeking answers to the challenges related to writing about today’s technological advances.
By intentionally writing about the impact of technology and new innovations on the evolution of societies, data-driven writers can comprehend the extent to which they can contribute to society. Changing the approach to journalism by adapting to data journalism, the media shows that it is working to remain relevant.
Presumably, the challenge for many writers is that, at times, they think there is a certain box one must fit into before one is considered a functional writer. It is no longer necessary to wait hours before finding facts for a story. The internet opens up vast dimensions data and information flow, including news, facts, entertainment and so on. Yet many writers do not know what to do with that kind of info bombardment.
Having a wide level of insight and remaining open to learning and adapting to the changing media landscape is a must for any writer. By rethinking approaches to journalism in the 21st Century, a lot of journalists can become effective and relevant in their role irrespective of the diverse work contexts they come from.
Several of Rwanda’s writers face a plethora of limitations like the challenges of capacity, mentorship, open dialogue, finances, competitive media houses and other issues related to quality. These are a few of the reasons that hinder a thriving creative writing environment. While the innovative, creative, technological and entrepreneurship talent is evidently present, so few write about these things in deeper analytical, balanced and accurate ways. For this reason, there is a need for data journalists and writers in this data-rich country.
The internet is making it possible for content creators to form better avenues to thrive. This provides a form of motivation to stand by the values that support the freedom to access and share information, accountability, integrity, fairness, objectivity and telling the African story with a new narrative. This is against the popular narrative of wars, hunger and poverty.
Nonetheless, there are several Open Source platforms that tell of the African story as well as several social media platforms that can be used to publish stories. There is so much data that is available for writers to use when creating content. However, there is a hesitation when it comes to using professional skills to approach these large datasets with an open mind.
The issue remains why so few are using these for positive impact. A lot of timelines are ridden with negativity between fellow Africans who use their voices to divide, begrudge and berate, rather than debate, critique and unite.
This shows that even when the time, effort, skill and finances are invested into the research and information gathering process to formulate great stories, there is minimal reward in terms of revenue to sustain the writers and a plethora of negativity ridden mindsets that challenge progress and positive change, hence many abandon the profession for other less risky and lucrative ‘rewarding careers’.
Thankfully, the internet has broken barriers to communication and knowledge sharing and as a result, the responsibility to accurately present information in real-time, through factual analysis is an opportunity that cannot be ignored. For this reason, we need to learn how to write relevant and informative stories that are socially inspiring, innovative, technological and business oriented. Seeing the big picture of what data journalism has to offer has big rewards.
It is great that a lot of funding is focused on social change projects to alleviate poverty, the evolution of technology and the opportunities to radically change into a knowledge-based economy, however, with very little investment directed toward breeding new or sustaining the already existing writers— these stories get thinned out.
There is need for a balance when it comes to the process of translating information from the ground into palatable bites for the public, private and civil societies with the available datasets. This is through learning how to ingest the goldmines of raw data— by learning how to gather, filter, consolidate and visualise big data, small data, historical data from the web— and transform it into beautiful facts, stories and content.
We need to keep applying context specific research and data findings in the stories we tell so that all who read have the necessary options to make informed choices about their perceptions. This is from informing consumer choices, to changing perceptions as well as learning for the sake of learning. Data becomes less abstract when an ecosystem of writers who have the ability to process the vast datasets and research findings and transform it into tangible information are actively engaged in their writing skills.
Therefore, lots of collaboration between creatives, researchers, academics, innovators and leaders to generate rich content will create a dynamic web of thriving data ecosystems. The more information becomes easily accessible to consumers, investors, innovators, tech developers, policy makers and most importantly the general public, the more writers, particularly data journalists, will contribute to solving the challenges facing the world today while critically thinking of new ways to adapt to processing the wealth of information that the WorldWideWeb has to offer. With that said, data is such a valuable resource that is provided by technology for all readers.
The author is a freelance writer and #AmplifyRwanda Fellow.
Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.