Data journalists to use skills to resolve conflict in the Congo Basin

The stories

Journalists in Central Africa hope to use data to aid in efforts to resolve conflict and illegal timber trading in the region.

Project will map extent of degradation

Project will map extent of degradation

Illegal timber trading is decimating the forest reserves in the Congo Basin, the world’s second largest rain forest. Much of the trading is fuelled by government troops and rebels to pay for war related expenses in the  Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The impact of the decimation on communities hasn’t been documented but journalists in Central Africa are hoping to change that. Ten publications from Cameroon, the DRC, and the Republic of Congo are joining forces to collect data that would help map the extent of environmental degradation in the Congo Basin.

Five-year project

The publications will work together in a five-year collaborative project that is being coordinated by Earth Journalism Network (EJN), says EJN senior project coordinator, William Shubert.

“We will collect information from satellites,” Shubert says.

For EJN, using the data from satellites is also a solution to the challenges of the unavailability and inaccessibility to data that many African countries face.

He says for journalists working in countries that have strict controls on data, using existing data sets may help them leverage national governments to make data available.

Shubert, who uses the term geojournalism to describe the work that the journalists will do, says they will use satellite data to map the extent of the degradation in the rain forest.

People’s stories will provide context

They will not stop at that. The journalists are hoping to speak to local communities whose lives have been impacted by the degradation so their stories can provide meaning to the data.

“A data journalist must be able to translate knowledge to their communities. We will use data as evidence and use people’s stories to provide context of what the data means,” he says.

It also helps to make the stories easier to read and palatable for the general public, he adds.

Data to transform lives

Data to change lives

Data to change lives

Shubert believes in the potential of data journalism to transform the lives of communities that journalists work in. He says journalists will need to acquire a diversity of skills to be able to fulfil this role.

This is a lesson the organisation learnt from InfoAmazonia, a project that they developed to map logging and deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest rain forest. EJN also developed Ekuatorial.

His organisation will provide training to journalists involved in the Congo Basin project to enable them to analyse, visualise and contextualise the data that they collect. The first meeting will be held in September.

“Building such a network will help to get the stories to readers in various countries and in the international community,” he says.

The meeting will also teach the journalists how to access data.

“To know where to get data and how it can be useful is an important skill for a data journalist,” Shubert says.

Picture credit: Flickr/David Holt and See-ming Lee

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