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Data journalism shines

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The online category of the Northern regional winners of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards brought data journalism to the fore.

Data journalism shone in the online category of the the Northern regional awards for the 2017 edition of the Vodacom Journalist of the Year, announced this week.

Journalists were recognised in 12 categories for outstanding work, with this year’s theme, “Your Word”, promoting the integrity of journalism across all media. This year’s competition drew over 1 000 entries from all over the country, including 397 entries from the Northern region.

Convenor of the judging panel Ryland Fisher says: The entries across the 12 categories were excellent this year. Our criteria for judging is to look for entries that could possibly make the cut for the national finals, and the overall prize of R100 000 for the journalist of the year award. We were overwhelmed by the number and the quality of entries from the Northern Region, particularly for the Print News and Online categories, where the judges made several commendations for outstanding work over and above the regional category winners.”

Winners in the Regional categories each took home R5 000, with the exception of the Young Journalist of the Year regional finalist, who received a certificate. All the regional winners go through to the national awards in Johannesburg on 16 November 2017.

Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer for Corporate Affairs at the Vodacom Group, said: “We are delighted to announce the Northern regional winners in Johannesburg for the 2017 Awards, which honour journalists from around the country by recognising their best work from the past year. We look forward to welcoming them at the national finals. I would also like to pay tribute to the judges, who year after year provide their expertise and knowledge in the adjudication of these prestigious awards, thereby ensuring the integrity of the process. Thanks go to Ryland Fisher, Mary Papayya, Arthur Goldstuck, Elna Rossouw, Patricia McCracken, Nikiwe Bikitsha, Megan Rusi,  Mathatha Tshedu, Albe Grobbelaar and Obed Zilwa.”

The judges gave the following citations for the winners of the 2017 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Regional Awards in the Northern region:

2017 Online

Among a rich field of Online entries, the judges want to commend both the mobile journalism by Thomas Holder on the Knysna fires for Eyewitness News and the infusion of human interest by the Health-e News team into their online feature, “Matriarchs of Mthatha” for Al Jazeera. The winning Online entry in the Northern region made the most of the data journalism possibilities offered by investigative analytics in the online medium. Excellent use of graphics, maps and hyperlinks helped to make this an exemplary piece of digital journalism that exposed a widespread threat generally overlooked by the media. Our regional winners are: Laura Grant and Alastair Otter freelancing for Passmark and Times Live for “Hidden danger: asbestos in Gauteng’s schools”.

2017 Radio News

Hundreds of Radio News stories are broadcast every day in South Africa. Many are run-of-the-mill reports that simply convey information. But sometimes a radio news reporter succeeds in really producing a news story that grabs the listener’s attention in a unique way. For a report on the dangers of WhatsApp voice notes in life-threatening situations, the regional winner is:  Hanri Wondergem and Hendrik Martin of SABC RSG for “WhatsApp-paniek”.

2017 Radio Feature

The Northern Region, which includes Gauteng, always has the largest number of entries and this year the quality of entries for the Radio Feature category was also very high. Ultimately, the regional award went to a brilliant piece of radio work on which the winner had worked for a very long time. For telling the story of an innocent man who spent 17 years in jail, the regional winner is: Paul McNally with John Bartmann, Kutlwano Serame and Freddy Mabitsela of Citizen Justice Network for SAfm for the eight-part series, “Alibi”.

2017 Sport

The Sport category was highly contested in this region with a great deal of creativity and expert knowledge evident. But one entrant stood out. For determination and the creative and very innovative approach to expanding the audience base, the worthy regional winners are: Simon Stephens and Khumo Pulumo of eNCA for his Mixed Martial Arts column, The Clinch.

2017 Sustainability

In a country wracked by drought and a province driven by industrialisation, there were several strong contenders in the CSI/Sustainability category who examined the viability and availability of our natural resources. The top entry combined facts, figures and an intensity of investigation that provoked harassment, attempted bribes and death threats. For revealing allegations of how even water supplies in this region and beyond were vulnerable to corruption and capture, our regional winner is: Sipho Masondo of City Press for “Watergate”.

2017 Print News

The Print News entries in this region were so strong this year that the judges want to commend: Suzanne Venter’s series of articles on mentally ill patients; Thomas Nkosi’s expose on the Speaker of the Mpumalanga legislature; Abram Mashego’s articles on Pravin Gordhan being threatened with arrest; Charl Blignaut’s articles on Hlaudi Motsoeneng; Susan Comrie’s articles on the ANC War Room; Sabelo Skiti’s expose on SAA’s money woes; and Genevieve Quintal’s articles about Bathabile Dlamini and Sassa. However, the winners were indisputably: for the “State capture” series, the Tiso Blackstar team of Graeme Hosken, Thanduxolo Jika, Kyle Cowan, Sikonathi Mantshantsha, Qaanitah Hunter, Sabelo Skiti, Hanna Ziady and Genevieve Quintal.

2017 Print Feature

The Print Feature category was heavily contested by entries displaying all the techniques of superb feature writing and reflecting issues gripping the Northern region. The judges want to commend Charl Blignaut of City Press for his artistic analysis of the melee around making the film Kalushi, about the life of Solomon Mahlangu. The winning entry took on the daunting task of opening to readers the doors of Gauteng’s mortuaries in a two-year-long attempt to unravel the escalating crisis of unidentified corpses. The regional winners are: Sarah Wild and Kristen van Schie of the Mail & Guardian for “Gauteng’s unidentified dead”.

2017 Financial/Economic

The specialist Financial and Economic category attracted a trove of entries in this region and it was good to see several new faces among the frontrunners this year. In this highly contested category, the judges want to commend the challenging expose of Discovery by Rob Rose and Katharine Child of the Financial Mail. The regional winner exposed broken corporate promises to those who, as a result, face becoming the poorest of the poor. The winner is: Lesetja Malope of City Press for “Broken promises from Anglo Gold signal darker days ahead.”

Photography

Photographers use their cameras as a tool of expression to tell stories that demand our attention and can change how we see our world. We want to commend a moving photographic essay depicting the strength of will driving a 37kg bodybuilder with sickle-cell anaemia to compete onstage. Just edging past this to win the regional award was a photographic report that took us to the forefront of violent action and student protest yet retained full technical control in the midst of the anger and frustrations. The same photographer captured both these very different emotional journeys. The regional winner is: Alon Skuy of The Times for “Fees must fall”.

2017 Television News

Protests that unfolded across South Africa during 2016 reminded many of scenes during apartheid. This time, though, the protestors were the Born Frees who pursued their dream of free education in what became running battles with police and authorities. The best TV news coverage gave the audience a sense of the immediacy, scope and intensity of what was happening on the ground. The regional winners are: Malungelo Booi, Lirandzu Themba, Mlingane Dude and Thuthuka Zondi of eNCA for “South Africa’s fees crisis”.

2017 Television Feature

Journalism can influence awareness of what is happening in our country and drive public discourse. Months of investigation resulted in a series of reports that were thoroughly researched, poignantly told, well shot and edited – and exposed conditions contributing to the death of one of the subjects. This impactful reporting was subsequently even used during the official investigation. The regional winners are: Kyla Hermannsen, Shamiel Albertyn, Ashley Market, Tshepo Dhlamini and Tshidi Lechuba of eNCA’s Checkpoint for “Life Esidimeni”.

Young Journalist Award

The winner in the region gets a certificate and goes through to the national round to compete for the overall prize. The overall award provides an opportunity to fast track a young journalist’s professional and personal development through an all-expenses paid overseas trip that includes a visit to the renowned Thomson Foundation, as well as the opportunity to work in a newsroom. To enter this category, the journalist should have worked in the media for up to, but not more than three years, and be able to demonstrate their potential through their entries. The winner is Sebe Buthelezi from Etv/ENCA.

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5 Ways to get coding

SAP Africa Code Week will return this October to the Cape Town Convention Centre to spread digital literacy across the continent and aim to empower over 600 000 children and youth in the basics of coding.

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Fact: Did you know that by 2020, 80 percent of all jobs will be related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)? By then, Africa would also have added 122 million younger people to its workforce, the most of any region in the world. This will provide the continent with the opportunity to be the fastest-growing digital consumer market on the planet, supported by the most youthful population.

To build this educated workforce, children & youth must be provided the opportunity to acquire digital skills from a very young age. This is what led SAP to give birth to Africa Code Week (ACW) and work closely with UNESCO YouthMobile, Google, Governments, educational institutes, schools, businesses, Tech-Hubs, Start-Ups and NPOs to drive sustainable learning impact and make digital skills a core pillar of basic education across Africa. In partnership with SAP these stakeholders are joining forces to power opportunities through digital inclusion in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals- SDGs (#1 – No Poverty, #4 – Quality Education and #5 – Gender Equality) through what Nelson Mandela described as “the most powerful weapon which we can use to change the world”: education.

With over 1.8 million youth introduced to coding over the past three years, ACW returns to the continent this year with a core focus on driving increased sustainability of the programme through its Train-the-Teacher sessions and female skills development in support of the #eskills4girls initiative, which was launched to help overcome the gender digital divide and promote education, skills and employment for girls and women in a digital world. In October 2018, ACW will support thousands of free workshops organized for youth aged 8-16 years across 36 African countries.

Computer Coding, Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Machine learning, Virtual Reality; the list of today’s digital skillset is ever-evolving within a fast-paced digital economy. Whether a technophile or technophobe – here’s how you can get involved:

Attend a Live Workshop

Taking place at schools, universities, science centers or community centers, ACW’s free digital workshops address specific age groups regardless of learner levels. Get yourself up to speed with fun learning tools and passionate teachers! Visit the ACW Map to locate a workshop near you.

  • Access a Free Online Course

Learn Coding from Scratch: If you are between 12 and 16 years old and would like to learn computer programming, openSAP is the place to start. This free online course will teach you how to create your own animations and games using the famous Scratch interface, a free programming language designed by the MIT Media Lab to simplify the face of coding for the young generation.

Teaching coding using Scratch: If you would like to learn the skills to teach youth coding using the famous Scratch interface described above, openSAP also has a free course for teachers.

  • Both courses are also available in French on openSAP for teachers and youth in Francophone Africa.

Host a Coding Workshop in Your Community

Why not support the planning and execution of workshops in your own venue community? You can visit the ACW website to download your full partner guide including a checklist of what you’ll need to host a successful coding workshop in your school or community.

Become a Coding Instructor

Use your teaching skills for the greater good and visit the ACW website to see where Train-the-Trainer workshops are taking place in your country. While ACW takes place over a one-week period every year, it is the local capacity building within schools and communities that will ensure sustainable 21st century skills development across the continent.

Become a Corporate Sponsor

ACW relies on a global network of likeminded companies. By becoming a sponsor, your organisation will be able to engage customers, partners and employees as skilled volunteers as part of its own series of workshops and help expand the scope to more African countries. You can reach out to info@africacodeweek.org for further details.

Together We Can Make the World Run Better

“There is so much we can do to empower our youth in the digital age,” says Sunil Geness, Project Lead for Africa Code Week. “ACW creates awareness about the importance of digital skills through creative and interactive learning. It also fosters the rise and growth of a community training culture which supports Government and Education institutions with the integration of coding into existing school curricula.”

He adds that it is not enough to rely on traditional teaching tools to equip our children with the skills they need for the future. “Beyond the activities taking place across the continent, Africa Code Week is also a fast-growing and powerful ecosystem that enables teachers and learners to connect and collaborate with their peers. This sustainable approach is a powerful contributor to realising the potential of Africa’s immense talent pool.”

Feeling inspired? Join SAP and partners; the Cape Town Science Centre, the Camden Education Trust, UNESCO Youth Mobile, Google, The German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development and a fast-growing network of over 150 private and public partners on their Africa Code Week mission to bridge the digital skills and gender gap. Simply visit www.africacodeweek.org to find our more.

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How AI can save elephants

Deep in the rainforest in a northern corner of the Republic of Congo, some of the most sophisticated monitoring of animal sounds on earth is taking place. Acoustic sensors are collecting large amounts of data around the clock for the Elephant Listening Project.

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These sensors capture the soundscape in Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park and adjacent logging areas: chimpanzees, gorillas, forest buffalo, endangered African grey parrots, fruit hitting the ground, blood-sucking insects, chainsaws, engines, human voices, gunshots. But researchers and local land managers who placed them there are listening for one sound in particular — the calls of elusive forest elephants.

Forest elephants are in steep decline; scientists estimate two-thirds of Africa’s population has likely been lost to ivory poaching in recent decades. Africa’s savannah elephants have also declined by 30 percent over a recent seven-year period, primarily because of poaching, according to results released in 2016 from Paul G. Allen’s Great Elephant Census.

But those working to save these species, which are critical to keeping ecosystems in balance and that also draw wildlife tourists, have a powerful new tool at their disposal: artificial intelligence.

Conservation Metrics, a Microsoft AI for Earth grantee based in Santa Cruz, California, uses machine learning to monitor wildlife and evaluate conservation efforts. It is applying its sophisticated algorithms to help the Elephant Listening Project, based at Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, distinguish between forest elephant calls and the other sounds in a noisy tropical rainforest. It’s a perfect job for AI — looking for these rare patterns in terabytes of data that would take humans years.

Researchers use the elephant call data to build more accurate and frequent population estimates, track their movements, provide better security and potentially to identify individual animals, which can’t be easily seen from the air.

It is one of many ways biologists, conservation groups and Microsoft data scientists are enlisting artificial intelligence to prevent the illegal killing of elephants across Africa, stop the global trade in their parts and preserve critical habitat. Efforts include using machine learning to detect real-time movement patterns that could alert rangers to poaching and blocking online ads that attempt to sell illegal ivory or elephant parts.

Scientists with the Elephant Listening Project estimate that Africa’s population of forest elephants has dropped from roughly 100,000 animals in 2011 to fewer than 40,000 animals today. But those numbers are largely based on indirect evidence: ivory seizures, signs of poaching and labor-intensive surveys that are too expensive to be done regularly.

The Elephant Listening Project has spent more than three decades researching how elephants use low-frequency rumbling sounds to communicate with one another. More recently, those scientists began to use acoustic sensors at research sites to build population estimates and, ultimately, to track and protect forest elephants across their ranges in Central and West Africa.

If scientists find, for example, that at specific times of year elephants are using clearings in an unprotected logging concession to access scarce minerals or find mates, scientists can work with the loggers to schedule their work to minimize disturbance and reduce conflicts.

But there has been a bottleneck in getting data out of these remote African forests and analyzing information quickly, says Peter Wrege, a senior research associate at Cornell who directs the Elephant Listening Project.

“Right now, when we come out of the field with our data, the managers of these protected areas are asking right away, ‘What have you found? Are there fewer elephants? Is there a crisis we need to address immediately?’ And sometimes it takes me months and months before I can give them an answer,” says Wrege.

Conservation Metrics began collaborating with the Elephant Listening Project in 2017 to help boost that efficiency. Its machine learning algorithms have been able to identify elephant calls more accurately and will hopefully begin to shortcut the need for human review. But the volume of data from the acoustic monitors is taxing the company’s local servers and computational capacity.

Microsoft’s AI for Earth program has given a two-year grant to Conservation Metrics to build a cloud-based workflow in Microsoft Azure for analyzing and processing wildlife metrics. It has also donated Azure computing resources to the Elephant Listening Project to support its data-processing costs for the project. The computational power of Azure will speed processing time dramatically, says Matthew McKown, the CEO of Conservation Metrics. The platform also offers new opportunities for clients to upload and interact with their data directly.

It takes about three weeks for computers to process a few months of sound data from this landscape-scale study, says McKown. Once the Azure migration is complete later this year, that same job may take a single day.

“It’s a huge improvement. We’re really interested in speeding up that loop between having equipment monitoring things out in the field and going through this magic process to convert those signals into information you can send into the field where someone can take action,” says McKown. “Right now, that process can take a really long time.”

‘We’ve only scratched the surface’

Across the continent in East Africa, Jake Wall, a research scientist with Save the Elephants who collaborates with the Mara Elephant Project and other conservation groups, typically has more immediate access to data about the savannah elephants he studies in Kenya and seven other countries. That’s because animals in those populations have been outfitted with GPS tracking collars that transmit location data via satellites and cell networks.

That information is uploaded to the Domain Awareness System (DAS), a real-time data visualization and analysis platform now used in protected areas across Africa. It integrates data from about 15 different sources today, including ranger vehicle and radios, animal trackers, camera traps, drones, weather monitors, field reports, snare locations and satellite imagery. The tool was developed by Paul G. Allen’s Great Elephant Census, another AI for Earth partner that is moving the DAS system and its data onto the Azure cloud, to give managers a real-time dashboard that can inform tactical decisions for interdiction against suspected illegal activity or apparent threats to endangered wildlife.

In some areas, DAS also powers a Save the Elephants tracking app that can alert rangers when an animal has slowed or stopped moving via email or text message. The app can also warn when animals are heading toward human settlements where they might raid a farmer’s crops. Reserve managers or the farmer can then help herd the animals back to safety. From Gabon to Mozambique to the Congo, some 463 animal tracking devices are deployed, of which 358 are on elephants.

In other projects, Microsoft has worked with the Peace Parks Foundation, which combats rhino and other wildlife poaching in South Africa, to create remote sensing systems that can detect and evaluate poaching risks. Microsoft, through a NetHope Azure Showcase grant, is also helping move the open-source SMART (Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool) Connect to the Azure cloud. It is used in dozens of conservation sites across Africa to improve the effectiveness of wildlife patrols.

AI for Earth has also provided grants to researchers at the USC Center for AI in Society (CAIS) and Carnegie Mellon University, who have created and are continuing to improve Protection Assistant for Wildlife Security (PAWS). It uses machine learning to create patrol routes based on where poaching activity is most likely to occur. USC CAIS has also created and is continuing to improve the Systematic Poacher Detector, which detects poachers and wildlife in nighttime drone footage, now being used by organizations including Air Shepherd.

Even with advances in radio collar technology, sensors and imagery collection, a lot of additional work is needed to turn that data into scientific insights or actionable intelligence, says Wall.

“I think we’ve only scratched the surface of what’s possible,” says Wall. “We’re really excited because the expertise that Microsoft and AI for Earth can bring to the table includes skillsets that field biologists don’t typically have.”

“Machine learning could be applied to seven or eight immediate things that I would love to know more about, whether it’s recognizing individual elephants or picking up on changes in movement behavior or figuring out what’s happening on a landscape level with human expansion and deforestation,” says Wall.

Wall has been collaborating with Dan Morris, a Microsoft researcher working with AI for Earth, on a half dozen project ideas. One examines how to use machine learning to identify streaking behaviors — when elephants run fast and in an unusually straight line — that can be a sign of poaching or other threats.

Morris has also been working to apply machine learning algorithms to camera traps, which are remote field cameras that are triggered by motion and photograph anything that crosses their path. But finding an animal of interest can be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

“Sometimes no one has time to look through these images and they end up sitting on a grad student’s shelf somewhere,” says Morris. “The potential for machine learning to rapidly accelerate that progress is huge. Right now there is some really solid work being done by computer scientists in this space, and I would guess that we’re less than a year away from having a tool that biologists can actually use.”

Wall and Morris are also beginning to work on using AI to distinguish between elephants and other animals like buffalo or giraffes in aerial photography. Knowing when and where elephants are coming into contact with other wildlife — and particularly domesticated animals like cattle — can help rangers minimize conflicts with humans and help scientists better understand disease vectors.

These insights can also inform land-management decisions, such as where to lobby for protected areas and where to locate human infrastructure like roads and pipelines. That’s one of the most significant yet least understood threats to elephant survival, says Wall. With access to the right imagery data, AI tools could help begin to keep tabs on, and draw useful insights into, human encroachment into their habitat.

“We’re always focused on poaching and these acute problems, but really it’s the expansion of human settlements and the advancements of roads and railways and pipelines that are going to affect African elephant populations going forward,” says Wall.

‘AI is really the key piece’

Saving elephants isn’t just about stopping poachers where they hunt. Disrupting the global marketplace that rewards them economically is equally important.

Microsoft and other tech companies have joined the Global Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and partners TRAFFIC and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. After observing that trafficking in wildlife parts like elephant ivory, animal skins and live pets had largely moved from physical marketplaces to the internet, they convened companies from across the online landscape to combine forces to stop it.

Along with targeting the illegal trade in elephant products, the coalition partners target criminal transactions such as the sale of tiger cubs for pets and the trade in pangolin scales and illegal coral.

“Previously cybercriminals were able to operate pretty freely on the internet because there wasn’t much risk,” says Giavanna Grein, a wildlife crime program officer at WWF. “But now we’re creating deterrents and consistency across all the different platforms — if every time a criminal creates a new account and puts up a new post, it’s taken down immediately, that’s going to be really frustrating for that criminal.”

The coalition has since worked with search engines like Bing, e-commerce sites and social media companies to adopt strong and consistent policies about what products are prohibited on their platforms. WWF also provides training to help companies recognize and shut down advertisements and customer accounts that traffic in illegal wildlife.

That involves some mix of human detective work and algorithms that search for keywords associated with wildlife trafficking. In September, Microsoft’s AI for Earth team will host an AI-focused workshop for tech companies and academics working to enhance automation to detect illegal wildlife and their products online. The goal is to advance technologies to identify and root out endangered species posts before anyone has a chance to see and purchase them.

“AI is really the key piece in combating wildlife trafficking online. While it’s not the only solution needed, automating the review of posts containing illegal wildlife and their products would drastically increase the barrier to entry for wildlife cybercriminals,” says Grein.

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