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Digital journalists win big

Twenty digital journalism projects have earned $1 million in funding and technical support as part of the African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC).

ANIC is the largest fund for digital journalism experimentation in Africa, and is designed to spur solutions to the business, distribution and workplace challenges that face the media industry.

A jury of 15 international media strategists, technology innovators, and funding experts evaluated more than 500 project plans before selecting winners from a shortlist of 40 projects. The winners were announced by ANIC manager Justin Arenstein in Kigali, Rwanda, on November 28, at the African Editors’ Forum annual general meeting.

‚”Africa’s media face serious challenges, and each of our winners tries to solve a real-world problem that journalists are grappling with. This includes the public’s growing concern about the manipulation and accuracy of online content, plus concerns around the security of communications and of whistle blowers or journalistic sources,‚” says Arenstein, a Knight International Journalism Fellow, who manages ANIC as part of a wider digital innovation program with Africa’s largest association of media owners and operators, the African Media Initiative (AMI).

‚”The other major theme evident in many of the 500 entries to ANIC is the realisation that the media needs better ways to engage with audiences. Many of our winners try tackle this, with projects ranging from mobile apps to mobilise citizens against corruption, to improved infographics to better explain complex issues, to completely new platforms for beaming content into buses and taxis, or even using drone aircraft to get cameras to isolated communities.‚”

Other significant trends include efforts to improve newsroom workflow systems, and boost media revenues.

Winning projects will receive cash grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, plus additional technology support from a team of four full-time developers at AMI’s jAccelerator lab in Kenya, and business development support from some of the world’s top media strategists affiliated with the World Association of Newspapers & News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). Ten of the winners will also be flown to the Knight Foundation’s annual M.I.T. Civic Media Conference in the US, while the rest will be showcased at other important industry events.

ANIC believes that all projects have the potential to either be replicated by media elsewhere in Africa, or to be scaled up across the continent, to create wide and sustained impact.

The winners will now negotiate their implementation plans, budgets, and promised outputs with ANIC’s technical team. Grants will be paid in tranches, as project deliver on agreed milestones in their implementation plans. The first grants are expected to be paid across in late January 2013, with the first working prototypes expected to be tested in AMI newsrooms by May 2013.

Unsuccessful ANIC finalists won’t walk away empty handed though. AMI’s civic tech lab, at its Code4Kenya initiative, will offer technical and strategic support for any finalists who want to build prototypes of their projects. All the winners, finalists, and any other entrants interested in pursuing their ideas will also be invited to join their local HacksHackers chapter to help refine their plans for future ANIC competitions.

‚”Finding and supporting great ideas for improving news reporting was just one of our aims. A second equally important objective was to kick-start a pan-African community of news innovators and journalism technologists. We are thrilled that ANIC seems to have succeeded, connecting people from across the continent and the wider world to work on collaborative projects. We’re already seeing skills and knowledge exchanges outside of ANIC,‚” says AMI chief executive, Amadou Mahtar Ba. ‚”We intend nurturing this new community through a series of other digital initiatives.‚”

Peter Barron, Google’s Director of External Relations for Europe, Middle East and Africa said ‚”We want to see journalism flourish in the digital age in Africa and the African News Innovation Challenge has helped spur some really exciting projects from across the continent. We’re looking forward to seeing these projects unfold and to working further with African journalists who are using technologies to gather and tell important stories.‚”

ANIC’s founding partners include Google, Omidyar Network, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the U.S. State Department, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA).

The 2012 winners are:

1.) actNOW Ghana A mobile application that empowers audiences to act on investigative reportage, by providing simple tools for citizens to organize themselves into civic action groups around issues reported by the media, or to petition government or corporations in response to journalistic exposés.

2.) AdBooker South Africa An open-source, streamlined workflow management system for planning and managing media advertising. It will generate ad rates and manage bookings, artwork production and ad placements.

3.) Africa Check South Africa/Nigeria A pan-African, non-partisan and crowd sourced fact-checking service that systematically verifies claims made in media reports. The project is intended to improve the accuracy and quality of reporting by exposing incorrect assertions by sources quoted in the media as well as errors in news stories.

4.) africanDRONE (renamed skyCAM) Kenya/Nigeria A pilot project that establishes Africa’s first newsroom-based ‚”eye in the sky‚” drones and camera-equipped balloons to help media that cannot afford news helicopters cover breaking news in dangerous situations or difficult-to-reach locations.

5.) Africa’s Wealth (renamed NewsStack) Nigeria/Namibia A project to integrate a new generation of forensic data analysis tools such as DocumentCloud, Poderopedia, Overview andMapa76, into a unified and reusable journalist toolkit. The kit will be used in a yearlong, pan-African investigation by 10 media organizations into the continent’s extractive industries.

6.) Citizen Desk Mozambique This toolkit that allows news organizations to create a mobile-optimized platform for aggregating, verifying, publishing and rewarding citizen journalism. The platform will be integrated into the widely used Superdesk production management system and serve as a way to incorporate citizen journalism into a news organization’s core workflow.

7.) Code4Ghana Ghana This ‚”kick-starter program‚” helps Ghanaian media experiment with data-driven journalism. It will provide access to data scientists and programmers, specialized training and a series of public ‚”hackathons‚” designed to build news tools that take advantage of the new Ghana Open Data Initiative.

8.) ConvergeCMS Kenya/Tanzania/Uganda An open-source and data-optimized editorial content management system and technical support program designed specifically for African media houses. It will help newsrooms centralize and manage content creation, dissemination, archiving and workflows.

9.) CorruptionNET South Africa An open-source mobile platform that gives citizen reporters a step-by-step toolkit for filing journalistic reports to newsrooms about corruption or other abuses of public resources. The citizens can report using SMS or MXit, Africa’s largest social mobile network.

10.) DataWrapper Nigeria/Senegal/Tanzania An initiative that establishes a network of full-fledged data visualization desks in forward-thinking newsrooms across Africa. It will help improve the use of interactive infographics and data-driven visual news apps, using the open-source DataWrapper toolkit plus other powerful graphic tools.

11.) End-to-End (renamed LastMile Crowdmapping) Liberia/Ghana/Kenya A crowd sourced reporting tool built on top of the platform to help African journalists and citizens tell complex investigative stories. This tool will visually map the people, places and events behind the ‚”last mile‚” of supply chains, so that consumers can understand where goods originate in African industries such as cocoa or logging.

12.) FlashCast Kenya This platform will beam hyper-local news to commuters in taxis and buses, using smart, location-aware LED displays. It also allows the audience to use their mobile or other digital devices to engage in conversation about news items with viewers in other taxis and buses.

13.) Green Hornet South Africa A plug-and-play toolkit for journalistic sources and whistle blowers, developed in collaboration with the Tor Project for use by investigative reporters in African newsrooms.

14.) ListeningPost South Africa Africa’s first social media-focused newsroom will produce actionable information from citizen reporters. It will establish a customized Storyful dashboard that aggregates social media posts and will include mobile apps that commission and sell crowd sourced photos and news.

15.) MoJo: Keeping media honest by monitoring online journalism South Africa A user-friendly toolkit of analytical software for African media-monitoring projects and other civic watchdogs. It will help improve media professionalism by keeping the media honest, detecting online censorship and exposing plagiarism.

16.) openAFRICA Kenya/Nigeria/Rwanda/South Africa A digital document and knowledge management toolkit, coupled with the creation of a pan-African online archive, to house and search documents for investigative pieces. This kit will streamline freedom of information (FOI) requests to government agencies and then use semantic search and analysis tools to help journalists and the broader public assess these documents.

17.) ODADI (renamed Code4SouthAfrica) South Africa An incubator for watchdog journalism that embeds data scientists and programmers into newsrooms to build new data desks and news APIs. The group will receive additional support from a local civic technology lab, which will provide trainers who help the reporters use data in stories.

18.) Oxpeckers South Africa A narrative mapping project that uses satellite imagery and geographic data analysis in stories to expose cross-border criminals and syndicates damaging the environment through logging, poaching and ecological degradation.

19.) Wikipedia Zero Cameroon/Ivory Coast/Tunisia/Uganda An initiative designed to boost original content from African news media for the new Wikipedia Zero mobile platform that is available free of charge to hundreds of millions of Africans, in 37 African languages, via either SMS or mobile phones.

20.) ZeroNews pan-African A simple tool for African news publishers to disseminate their content, free of charge, on mobile channels, including Facebook Zero and various Google platforms, so that they can reach a new generation of mobile news consumers in a cost-effective way.

* Follow Gadget on Twitter on @GadgetZA

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