Data journalism meets community radio in Tanzania
Mbeya Highlands FM, a community radio station in Mbeya region, is using digital tools to publish data-driven stories about health and education in Tanzania.
Mbeya Highlands FM is one of the leading commercial radio stations in Mbeya region, with 1.2 million of listeners per day. In Mbeya District Council—a priority PEPFAR district with high HIV/AIDS prevalence—radio is a powerful source of information. There, Data Zetu met with nearly 1,000 citizens across four wards, and nearly 43% of them reported radio as their primary source of information (more than internet and TV combined).1
Their social media, particularly Instagram with 46,500 followers makes it the ideal channel to combine radio and digital storytelling to pioneer data-driven reporting in Mbeya.
Locals in Mbeya often get their news from listening to the radio, but a lot of the news they receive is not fact-based, so it can be misleading and misinform listeners. This can have direct implications on health outcomes and social behaviors; for instance, misinformation about the cause of spreading diseases can prevent listeners from accessing services they need in their communities, or reporting outbreaks to decisionmakers.
Most of Mbeya Highlands FM’s team have never interacted with data about sectors related to PEPFAR priorities, such as health and education, on the level of news reporting. Therefore, they asked to be trained on how to access, clean, understand, then use data in a way that the average citizen would be able to understand and take something from it.
Data Zetu partner Code for Tanzania helped Mbeya Highlands FM to engage in data journalism on a weekly basis, producing a program that reports data-driven news on education and health on their radio show, accompanied by infographics on their Instagram platform. This would set them apart from other radio stations within Mbeya because not only would they be the first to achieve this, but citizens would know they can rely on them for factual, trustworthy, and credible news.
Code for Tanzania also introduced to the Mbeya Highlands FM team some digital tools that help them and their audience engage with data about cholera outbreaks (another priority community identified need emerging from the community meetups Data Zetu conducted) and schools in Mbeya region.
Code for Tanzania’s support was multifaceted and took place over five workshops and trainings. This support included:
- Training their journalists on how to fact-check and produce fact-checking journalism for the company’s nascent digital platform.
- Pointing participants to some open data sources that they could use in their daily reporting. These include data published on the National Bureau of Statistics, the government’s open data platform, and other local and international NGOs publishing data relevant to their journalism. These data sources were complemented by demonstrations and practical examples of how data can be extracted and then used for stories.
- Exposing reporters to digital tools such as the open location platform Hurumap, the education data platform Elimu Yangu, and the water communicable disease platform Cholera Outbreak, which were built by Code for Tanzania and Index Labs in response to the pain points from the Listening Campaign.
- Demoing tools like ilovepdf, a tool that helps the scraping of data by uploading a document that can then be converted to an Excel sheet, allowing for the use of data in stories. Also, the reporters were shown how to use Atlas, a free visualization tool that can be used to tell stories on the station’s popular Instagram platform, which boasts over 40,000 followers.
Between physical trainings, Code for Tanzania’s Media Fellows would provide mentorship virtually to anyone on the team that required further guidance.
Outcomes and Impact
The team conducted a total of 5 trainings, with 10-13 participants each training between the age 20-29, where 54% where male and 46% were female. As a result of the trainings, 82% of the participants reported an increase in their perceived importance of data to their day-to-day work. And 64% of trainees reported an increase in their ability to clean data and prepare it for use in their radio scripts.
Shifting towards a data culture in newsrooms is not achieved overnight, but anecdotes from Mbeya Highlands FM suggest that they are on the right course:
“It’s funny, because for the longest time we’ve been wanting to implement a program that focuses on education, and this is better than what we had in mind” —Jackie Lawrence, Director of Mbeya Highlands FM on the Elimu Yangu tool.
“What I’ve learned is that using data alone, I can initiate change and positively impact the region of Mbeya.”— James John, radio journalist and reporter
1. Data Zetu published as open data these and other community insights surfaced at its Listening Campaigns, or community meetups to prioritize challenges. Learn more here: https://medium.com/data-zetu/we-dont-collect-data-we-borrow-it-a7ce7a25408a
2. See http://tanzania.hurumap.org, http://elimuyangu.codefortanzania.org/ and https://outbreak.codefortanzania.org/. The Outbreak cholera tool is scheduled to be transferred to and hosted by Mbeya Highlands FM to facilitate their reporting in case of an outbreak of a disease in a region known for water-borne diseases including cholera.