Data JournalismData journalism

It is high time media organisations in Zimbabwe embrace data journalism. Media careers are no longer linear. Journalism has become more dynamic and there are limitless opportunities to explore…Yes, African journalists must soon come to grips with the fact that journalism is evolving.

Digital journalism offers endless possibilities to produce quality and informative reports. Stronger economies are leveraging technology in telling stories through data and they are successfully taking the centre stage. As a result, data journalism is producing successful media products and campaigns.

Journalism now goes beyond telling the story through traditional sources and five Ws and an H.

Not to say there is anything wrong with traditional news gathering techniques, it is still the best and simplest, and most basic way to tell a story.

However, there is a growing demand for more factual and accurate news designed for the internet. Journalism has evolved from just providing news updates but writing informative essays in different formats to tell stories through data.

Data journalism is what it is called, it requires gathering data and synthesising it into information.

There is a growing demand for stories that are told through data journalism and the global market is responding positively to data journalism.

For instance, the global climate crisis stories are better told through data and every media organisation is expected to institute data journalism to tell stories.

Stories that are told through data are more relevant and laden with information. The Data is collected.

The Context of Zimbabwe

The state of journalism in Zimbabwe is lagging when it comes to telling stories through data.

In essence, 90% of the newsrooms including state-owned media houses are poorly equipped with human resources and the technology to institute data journalism.

Nearly almost every journalist affiliated with a local media organisation does not practice data journalism.

Where is the problem?

Various problems are stifling the growth of data journalism in Zimbabwe. Most of the problems are policy related.

As a result, the bureaucratic stifling of an open internet is stalling the development of data journalism in Zimbabwe.

Lack of Human Capital

The lack of human capital and skills is one of the major setbacks to growing data journalism in Zimbabwe.

ZNCJ conducted a survey which revealed that 80% of graduates will go for industrial attachment for internships without knowing anything about data journalism and telling stories through data.

More so, the local media organisations do not practice or prioritize data journalism within the news. This is so because the media houses themselves do not have the human capital to institute data journalism.

Consequentially, the media industry retains graduates that are not fully trained in modern newsgathering techniques and digital journalism.

A survey conducted by ZNCJ revealed that intern journalists at New Ziana Limited are not trained in anything to do with data journalism.

NewZiana Limited is the largest network of small community newspapers in Zimbabwe, however, they have not instituted data journalism in their newsrooms.

NewZiana Limited absorbs most journalist interns across the nine provinces of Zimbabwe with at least one community newspaper in every province.

Obsolete technology and digital infrastructure

This problem mostly affects unemployed freelance who struggle to afford internet data and relevant ICT gadgets to collect data.

A survey conducted by ZNCJ revealed that 70% of journalism students in Zimbabwe graduate without a Laptop computer and a reliable internet connection.

Poverty is one of the main causes of this. A brand-new Laptop costs $450 upwards in Zimbabwe. The price tag is unaffordable even for practicing journalists.

The country is then plagued with journalists who do not have the tools for the trade. Journalists end up resorting to the traditional methods of news gathering with pen, paper, and borrowed computers to type the story. The result is a mediocre or poorly researched story that could have been told better if the necessary facts were gathered through technology.

Data journalism requires a stable and fast internet connection. In essence, everyone in 2022 must at least have a 4G internet connection. Internet data is expensive in Zimbabwe with 1 gig costing $ 1 USD.

The current average salary of a civil servant is below $100 a month and journalists are spared from this poverty.

Once again, freelance journalists are also caught at the helm of this ordeal, where they can not simply afford internet data do research, and make use of online data journalism tools.

Consequentially, it is virtually impossible for the average journalist to fully conduct a data-driven report when there is a lack of ICT gadgets and Internet data.

Poor Open Internet Democracy

Zimbabwe’s current Data Protection Act challenges digital rights to a greater extent.

Zimbabwe’s current media laws promote self-censorship among journalists. Investigative journalists cannot afford the risk of hefty prison sentences enshrined in the law.

Prominent journalist Hopewell Chin’ono exposed corruption within public administration that implicated top government officials. Chin’ono’s investigative report led to his arrest where he was charged with spreading false information.

In essence, the current Data Protection Act is used as a deterrent for investigative journalists to institute data journalism.

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