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"You cannot kill me I am alive on everything. " V.Maluleke

Month

September 2016

Data journalism: wait what journalists now get paid in megabytes?

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Imagine a world where journalists earned megabytes for a living. A world where the data must fall campaign did not exist, imagine if the world become a utopia for mobile networks we would all live happily ever after right? Wrong. Sadly,all of the above is only good enough for one’s imagination rather than for reality. The truth is, data journalism (DJ) has nothing to do with megabytes but much more to do with how journalists analyse and capture data in order to create correlation and causality.

DJ is not a new concept,in fact its been around before Mandoza started singing Nkalakata according to Simon Rogers;

The first ever edition of the Guardian‘s news coverage was dominated by a large (leaked) table listing every school in Manchester, its costs and pupil numbers.

My point is data has been around since the bygone age, only it was being published in books as statistics or figures whereas now it comes on spreadsheets and files formatted for computers. DJ has only recently started to gain momentum in the media,prior to this journalists were or still are data illiterate when it comes to data journalism. The organisation Code for South Africa  has recently launched the data journalism academy, personally I think  there should be no excuse for journalists not to equip themselves with the essential skills in order to understand digital media.

Data is powerful and as a result journalist need to learn to cut it down into bite size chunks without compromising quality for quantity.  DJ encourages journalists to use digital media  creatively in order to produce current and well analyzed information compared to the traditional news room methods. Let’s look at an example closer to home. Zuma’s  Inkandla estate controversy; initially the story was then exposed by Mandy Roussow . However the story was declared officially only after amaBhungane  requested information  from the Department of Public Works under the PAIA . The release of over 12 000 pages of documented data obtained by amaBhungane, meant that journalists had to sift through the yucky chunks of Zuma’s dirty laundry in order to find the juicy and mouth-watering bits at the bottom.  Had the media simply released all the information like this…

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Or like this…

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Nobody would have bothered to read it, in fact you probably scanned all of that or didn’t even bother to read it at all . Look at it like this; it would be like the media forcing a new-born baby to eat solid food 12 hours after being born, the new-born baby being the consumers of course just isn’t ready. Too soon, media consumers cannot digest concentrated chunks of data yet because it is a powerful thing. This is why digital software tools such as OutWit and GoogleRefine make it easy for journalists to gather organised online data in order to dig deeper and communicate better.

Yes, DJ is to some extent promoting robojourn but we aren’t exactly living in the stone ages anymore, technology is developing and fast…it’s only fair that we in turn develop ourselves with it too. Data is power, and by data I do not mean megabytes…I mean information. The world is made up of information molecules floating all around you just waiting for you to discover them…

 

 

The evolution we are too scared to talk about: the rise of the machines.

Cars are machines, that have made it easier for humans to get from one place to another. Inevitably technology has made living for human beings quite simple, and we in turn love that! But what happens when the profession you have invested half of your adulthood to suddenly gets “snatched” by a machine?   Robots are being perceived as being better human being story tellers, than the actual human beings themselves are.

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We are living in a world where regardless of your profession, your position at some point will get replaced by a machine. I want to place a greater emphasis on, automated reporting better known as robojournalism. According to What.Is.com  robojournalism is the use of software programs to generate articles, without any human intervention.

For example when an earthquake struck Los Angeles in the early morning hours of February 1, 2014, a content generation algorithm created by programmer/journalist Ken Schwencke posted the story to the L.A. Times within eight minutes of the tremor, complete with a map pinpointing the epicenter.

 

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Robots are not only cheaper but faster and have the ability to generate news articles in an estimation of 10 minutes or less. Hein Marias of  the Daily Maverick in June 2012, wrote an article on (Robojournalism: How afraid should we be?). In this article he identified robojournalism as “…one more way to trim costs and amp up profits.The economics are obvious. It’s cheaper to subscribe to the algorithm-spawn than it is to pay a pod of young reporters a living wage…”

Yes, undoubtedly robots are invented with artificial intelligence, but being a journalism student myself I am learning that some stories require human sensitivity that robots do not have. Machines don’t have the emotional intelligence that humans do. Nikiwe Bikitsha CEO of Amargi Media, stated in an interview  “… journalism is all about, the enormous responsibility we have to the audiences or the readers or listeners that we serve.”.

Looking back at South Africa’s media landscape history, what recently happened with the SABC 8 and the censorship saga. This immediately poses a question of is South Africa ready for the invasion of the machines in the newsroom,radio and broadcast? Well, Michael Salzwedel who was the digital media specialist at SABC News seems to disagree “…robots can’t think like humans (yet). Journalists and editors are paid to think, to discern, to make decisions…Robots just aren’t quite there yet.” He further added in the article “Robo-journalists are great for creating simple stories in seconds, but they can’t pick an angle, investigate inconsistencies or controversies…”.

Imagine a robot reading, in isiXhosa the 8 o’clock news. It’ll probably sound like a Metrorail programmed announcer, broadcasting train delays instead of the evening news. Journalist have that authenticity and human relation that  ordinary citizens can relate to. While robots may not ask for a salary increase nor be late for work, human beings are far more characterized than robots will ever be. So for now, the rising iron age can stay in its lane and allow journalists to flourish.

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The hunger games: citizen journalism vs journalist who cooks the food you eat?

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Last week I uploaded a video on my Instagram account of a woman who was manhandled by Metro Rail security officials for not having the correct ticket for first class. Undoubtedly, I was not the only one who immediately whipped out my smartphone so I could via social media inform the ‘rest’ of South Africa.

Like many others who probably succeeded much more than I did at making the video viral, unconsciously I was practicing citizen journalism as a journalism student. Or a student practicing citizen journalism…which ever one it is! This entire concept of citizen journalism has made me wonder why I still continue to even study a profession that ordinary citizens are practicing without the necessary qualification.

Initially when I introduced the whole journalism concept to my parents, they asked me why I was studying something I could do as a hobby. Shut the front door! Pause. Hobby?? Disseminating information to the public has been reduced, shrunk and squashed into a hobby?? One would initially think that as the information ‘gate keepers’, a profession like journalism deserves the undivided respect of the public minds it continually feeds.

Then again this very traditional journalism is dying out at the the hands of publications. Having to compete with new media has deduced traditional journalism into what Gareth Davis has described as a …”collection of click bait…the paper’s only role was to prop up the website with (increasingly) meager advertising revenue.”  Undoubtedly traditional media is suffering which means journalism is in trouble, even John Oliver seems to think so.

However, journalist too must be blamed for dropping the ball and allowing themselves to get swallowed up by the pressures of producing quantity far more than quality to the public. According to Tim Hinchliffe journalists aren’t able to maintain professional objectivity which is why journalism apps are needed to  combat corporate media bias.

Tim continues to say that “Citizen journalism apps make it even easier for users to share their unique, eyes-on-the-ground perspectives that show what is actually happening in real-time” . What U See  is an example of an app that has been created for citizen journalists, it can be installed onto an android or smart phone and enables citizen journalists to report on stories within their areas.

Are citizen journalists really at fault then for not only actively informing themselves but others in the process? Believe it or not, citizens are practicing a concept I would like to describe as ‘being a heavy chef’. I  was introduced to this concept at a media conference by Fred Roed,the idea behind being a heavy chef is utilizing new media to your advantage. Moral of the story -no one trusts a skinny chef, citizens are not only learning to cook their own food but eat it too. Just like media consumption should be a two way stream, journalist cannot cater to a dead audience.

This 21st social media dominated century, has created a big fat elephant of awkwardness and disrespect in a room filled with real journalists and what some would describe as ‘wanna be journalists’. But perhaps it isn’t all that bad, perhaps journalists need passionate activist and dedicated citizen journalists in order to drown out the noise traditional media has instilled and learn how to share the toys they do not play with. Anyway onto other news…who cooks the food you eat?

 

 

 

 

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