Digital reporting: A new frontier for newsrooms in Sierra Leone

How Code for Sierra Leone is working to help journalists catch-up with modern reporting techniques.

It’s fair to say that in Sierra Leone, the availability of modern digital tools and platforms to gather and report news is still a major challenge. Newsrooms in the country still heavily depend on traditional means of finding and telling local news. Unlike many regions, media is still dominated by FM radio broadcast, print newspapers and magazine publications. The online revolution can still seem a long a way off in a country that has poor network and wireless infrastructure. Old fashioned tools are by far the best channels for journalists to reach their audience.

Things are changing, however. Even though well over half of the population lacks access to internet services, Sierra Leonean journalists are zealous to catch up with modern digital trends of reporting the news. The audience for digital storytelling is growing day by day, and more importantly cash-strapped newsrooms are keen to train reporters in efficient, digital methods of information gathering and data analysis.

It’s really in the last six years that members of the fourth estate in Sierra Leone have begun to leverage the use of websites and social media networks (predominantly Facebook and WhatsApp) to find and tell the news. The recent Ebola crisis, for example, showed how important messaging applications have become in the way important information is shared and digested. With the world increasingly connected, journalists are cognisant of the value digital news reports brings to their current traditional ways used to tell their stories. Furthermore, they are aware of the dynamic nature of journalism and hence the need to keep up to speed with latest tools and skills for more impact in their field.

Even though the ambition in Sierra Leone newsrooms is to have a strong digital presence, there are still many challenges that hinders journalists maximising their full potential. Many journalists are still not acquainted with the effective and efficient use of these digital platforms, especially when searching the web to better find, tell and track the impact of their news stories.

Formal training in these tools is almost non-existent, and expensive.

Our work

And that’s where Code for Sierra Leone comes in. We’re launching the StoryLab Academy platform to help newsrooms in Sierra Leone keep up with modern tools of reporting. As a collaborative effort by Code for Africa, Google News Lab and the World Bank, the StoryLab Academy is designed to provide the enabling digital tool sets for journalists to better find and tell their stories.

What this means for Sierra Leone, is that for the first time journalists will be supported to develop their capacity in digital reporting through the provision of free onsite training and a specialist Massively Open Online Course (MOOC). Code for Sierra Leone is establishing partnership with prominent newsrooms and universities in Freetown in support of the StoryLab initiative. Our goal is to conduct onsite training and make available StoryLab’s free online courses for journalist across the country.

Cross section of participants from Awoko Newsroom taking part in training session II

Working with Awoko

Recently, we conducted our first training sessions for one of our newsroom partnerships, Awoko Newspaper. The training focused on providing journalists with the resources and explaining the usefulness of the StoryLab academy courses. Aprint outlet, Awoko is one of Sierra Leone’s most prominent local news organisations known for reporting local news.

Even so, Awoko’s journalists find digital journalism a new frontier. In order to help journalists familiarise themselves with some of the tools for research and reporting commonly used overseas, Code for Sierra Leone has already conducted its second training and will do more training sessions in the coming months.

The overarching aim is to help journalists at Awoko start building their capacity in the use digital skill and tools for reporting through onsite and online tutorials.

So far, the feedback we got from our latest session with Awoko was encouraging and already shows the impact of such initiative. Journalists are receptive and are finding it fun to learn courses and tools from the StoryLab Academy. In the same spirit, we look forward to a fruitful and a productive sessions in the coming weeks with other newsrooms and universities in Freetown. As a group, we will keep working in partnership to ensure that newsrooms in Sierra Leone have the needed infrastructure worthy of their daily efforts to find and tell news more effectively.

About our partners

Code for Africa (CfA) is the continent’s largest federation of data journalism and civic technology laboratories, with labs in four countries and affiliates in a further six countries. CfA manages the $1m/year innovateAFRICA.fund and $500,000/year impactAFRICA.fund, as well as key digital democracy resources such as the openAFRICA.net data portal and the GotToVote.cc election toolkit. CfA’s labs also incubate a series of trendsetting initiatives, including the PesaCheck fact-checking initiative in East Africa, the continental africanDRONEnetwork, and the African Network of Centres for Investigative Reporting(ANCIR) that spearheaded Panama Papers probes across the continent.CfA is an initiative of the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ).

Google News Lab empowers the creation of media that improves people’s lives. It’s mission is to collaborate with journalists and entrepreneurs everywhere to build the future of media with Google. It does this through product partnerships, media trainings, and programs that foster the development of the news industry as a whole. Google began its support for digital and data journalism in Africa in 2010 through intensive workshops and continues to offer newsroom-targeted trainings. It also supported innovateAFRICA’s predecessor, the African News Innovation Challenge, in 2012.

The World Bank Global Media Development Programme helps the media leverage digital technologies to strengthen its role as a driver of good governance. In Africa, this has included support for data-driven journalism training starting in 2011, as part of efforts to improve the media’s analytical capacity. The World Bank also works with African governments to help make data for decisionmaking on development and economic issues more easily available to citizens and the media. The World Bank’s support has included co-funding for the SudanData.org to build statistical capacity and data literacy amongst journalists, as well as support for the HURUmap initiative to make census and demographic data more easily available to African newsrooms.