In the era of data information, it seems that the classical way of reporting is not the only way; as journalists now deal everyday with numbers, info-graphs and statistics. In order to keep up with technology in a time of media revolution, journalists should be trained and prepared to deal with a huge amount of data as it becomes more available than ever before.
To help achieve that, Amr El-Eraqi, data journalist and founder of Arab Digital Journalism Network (ArabDJN), in association with international speakers from well-known media agencies, as well as Arab and foreign journalists, launched a conference on Tuesday, named In-Depth Data Journalism at the American University in Cairo, between 6th and 8th March.
“This is not the beginning, last summer we launched the website of the Arab Data Journalism Network (ArabDJN),which seeks to spread awareness around Data Journalism using videos and blogs,” El-Eraqi told Daily News Egypt.
While Ides MF Debruyne, a Belgian journalist and the managing director at Pascal Decroos Fund for Investigative Journalism, expressed his pleasure for holding such a conference, “It is fantastic to see this in the Arab world,” adding that “Journalists deal with the same problems in the whole world, facing the difficulties of getting official sources or information. So, we need to tell journalists how to deal with that, as well as dealing with a lot of data and visualising it.”
Debruyne—along with many other foreign journalists—set up workshops, panels on collecting and refining data, teaching data journalism at universities, tips for using data in breaking news and the future of this kind of journalism in light of the freedom of information and the challenges facing journalists in an era of conflicts and instabilities in the Middle East.
He pointed out that “data Journalism is the future of journalism. It is a great moment for doing journalism as everything now is digitalised; so its practical for journalists to dig into big data, gather information and find news that you could not find with other techniques before. Also, this kind is important as it based on facts and data which is better than opinions.”
As Arab journalists mostly need to develop their technical skills, El-Eraqi has decided to hold the conference to gather media professionals and journalists in Arab countries who are interested in this kind of journalism, and offer workshops and trainings as well as conduct studies and surveys related to data journalism in the Arab world.
The first of its kind, the conference is planned to be held annually, and an award would be granted to data driven stories in Arabic. The winners should be announced during the next conference set in 2019.
The discussions also included the potential opportunities and challenges for teaching data journalism in universities, in light of its global rise. At one of those sessions, Nouha Belaid, a professor at the University of Manouba in Tunisia and co-founder and editor of Arab Journalism Observatory said that “there are many individual initiatives by journalists and NGOs to teach data journalism at Tunisian media institutions, through offering courses and free workshops related to data journalism.” She insisted that developing partnerships with institutions or networks like ArabDJN can help universities interested in teaching data journalism.
Meanwhile, Mona Abdel Maksoud, associate professor at the Faculty of Mass Communication, Cairo University, said that “we need to integrate data journalism in journalism school curriculums. This needs concerted efforts and cooperation between the academics and professional and experienced journalists.” She added that young journalists should be taught how to get the information, especially when officials or governments do not offer them to the public.