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Impact Series: Doing Journalism Differently in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

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What to do when media headlines are occupied with sensationalism? Can media culture be affected by bringing data in the mix? How can we work with academic institutions to improve data literacy horizontally & vertically?

By: Lejla Sadiku, Open Data in East Europe & Central Asia (ODECA), UNDP

 

Context

In the “post-truth” world, facts are the only way to grapple with the truth. The media has the power to transform our understanding of the world. Yet, our region, not unlike others, is marred by the pressure of 24 hour news cycles and resource constraints as advertising budgets are dwindling and there are only limited investments in the overall profession of journalism. While data is becoming more available, the skills to analyze the data remain limited – and so do the opportunities to gain those skills, especially for young journalists. Our essential question was: how can we significantly influence the media culture so that it moves beyond sensationalism and change the way that stories are produced?

 

Our Solution

With the help of the Open Data for Development Programme, we reached out to universities and media hubs in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to join a two week boot camp on data journalism, led by Eva Constantaras and supported by Anastasiya Valeeva. In the depth of summer, participants from 8 countries in the region convened in the vicinity of Podgorica and proceeded to spend late nights and early mornings learning tools and skills to better leverage open data. The course content, designed for 500 hours of teaching, was created such that trainees got the essence, theory and tools to produce short and long stories using available data. At the end of two weeks, the trainees had produced six stories looking at the dangers of pregnancy in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan’s business climate, cancer rates in Albania, alcohol consumption in Belarus and juvenile justice in Serbia and Montenegro.

 

Emerging Outcomes

The piloting of the Data Journalism Manual through the bootcamp gave us two important insights: 1) there was a large appetite in the region to learn about and institutionalize data journalism, and 2) while a whole-of-region approach was valuable for collaborative learning, the type of rigorous training that was envisioned could be even more beneficial if it was longer and targeted at a sub-regional level.

In 2017, we will be rolling out two summer institutes which address those findings. Starting in early June, we will be rolling out a Summer Institute at the American University in Central Asia (AUCA) in Kyrgyzstan, to support the instructors in rolling out a Master’s in Data Journalism and a Bachelor’s-level course in data journalism in September. In addition, we will travel to Albania in July, where in partnership with the University of Tirana, we will establish a Western Balkans Summer Institute for Data Journalism. University of Tirana is also seeking to include data journalism in its course catalogue starting from Fall 2017.

As we embark on our next adventures, the big questions at the start of this article remain unanswered, but at least we now feel closer to the answers.

 

Learn more about our regional hub, Open Data in Europe and Central Asia (ODECA) at their website, http://www.odecanet.org/.