Bringing data journalism to the Arab world


It's not easy being data journalist in the Middle East. Over 40% of Arab data journalists don't use excel, and almost 56% rely on PDFs as their main source of data. Just about 72% rate getting access to official data as 'hard', and 83% don't know how to extract data from websites. 

These results, from the Arab Data Journalists Network (ADJN)'s recent survey, reveal some of the systemic challenges of practising data journalism in the Arab world.
Recognising these obstacles, the ADJN hopes to provide the region's aspiring data journalists with new tools and support. We spoke to its founder, Amr Eleraqi, to find out more.
Amr Eleraqi is a renowned figure in the data journalism world. In 2012, he founded InfoTimes and, in 2016, he published Data Journalism Fundamentals, the first data journalism book in the Arabic language. He was a winner of the International Center For Journalists’ award in 2013 and twice shortlisted for the Global Editors Network (GEN) Awards. 
DDJ: First of all, why is data journalism relevant today? Why should Arab journalists learn more about it?
AE: Simply because data is more available now than ever. We have more opportunities to collect and produce high-quality data that provides the right information on the right things at the right time, and in ways that are accessible to everyone. That’s data journalism: to find the story in the data and tell it. Arab journalists need to learn it because we can’t ignore it. Journalism is like a train: you need to get on it. If you just watch it, it’ll leave you. Data is a source. We should understand it and learn how to put it in the stories.
When did you launch ADJN? As far as I can see, the website only is in Arabic. Do you plan to add an English component?
The idea came in 2017 to provide Arab journalists with all possible articles, resources for tools and techniques, news, courses, job opportunities related to data journalism.
The priority is to provide Arabic content, because there's a lack of data journalism related content produced in Arabic — and I mean both educational content and data driven stories produced in Arabic. One of our main goals is to spread this kind of knowledge in Arabic. Producing content in French comes next, as French is commonly used in North Africa. For now, we have Google-translated versions that might not be very accurate, but might be somehow useful.

Image: Screenshot from the Network's webpage.

What was the driving force behind your development of ADJN? Why did you believe it was important for this organization to exist?

I believe in networking as a way for development and exchange experiences, so during a conference that was held in Cairo, we discussed the idea of creating a network that could bring together all Arab journalists who are interested in data to help them cooperate and exchanges knowledge which will help them to produce better stories and at the same time enhance the concept of data journalism in the Arab region.

What services does ADJN provide to journalists? How are journalists using ADJN?

We provide data journalism-related opportunities, news, articles and tutorials. Through this content, journalists can get the latest news and opportunities in this field. They also can benefit from the content of the articles and tutorials that provide them with knowledge, methods and sometimes solutions to some of the challenges they might face in their daily work.

Could you please provide a list of tutorials for learning data journalism you think are best both for Arab journalists and others as well?

Here are series of videos that I've produced, in cooperation with IJNet. It is about the basics of data journalism. You can also find another series of videos on coding, scraping data and data analysis.

Do you have any plans to expand the Network and form partnerships with other journalistic organizations?

So far, the membership is for media agencies and outlets, whether these are printed, broadcasted or online. We will open the membership for individuals, for only $15 per year, and provide them with access to the content of our website and data journalism-related resources, like handbooks and tool guides. They will also be able to get involved in our community, which can provide them with advice regarding the stories they are working with and the challenges they might face. We are currently partners with several organizations, including InfoTimes and the Global Editors’ Network (you can check the full list here), and we are looking for more partnerships with other organizations inside and outside the Middle East/North Africa region.  

Image: ADJN's current partners.

How can data journalism help promote growth and access to information in Arab/Middle Eastern countries?

This is the current revolution in the world. Data leads to knowledge which leads to information which leads to development and growth. When people understand where public money is spent, they will be able to make right decisions in the next elections and so on. It’s about creating awareness. Data is power. Some countries in the Middle Eastern and North Africa have laws for accessing to information, but most countries don’t, which of course is a big challenge. Still, as a journalist, you need to find your way and get the data you need. It’s hard to get the data, but it’s harder to work with it, organize and clean it. This is the real mission.

What is your future goal for ADJN?

Through the services we’re offering, we aim to spread data journalism knowledge and encourage journalists to produce more professional data driven stories. We are doing our best to make data journalism common and basic in Arab journalism. Also, we are working now on the preparation of the first conference of ADJN, which will be held this year from 6th until 8th of March. The conference is the main event of the network, where journalists, experts and all people interested in data journalism can meet in person to talk and discuss and exchange experience on data through many discussion sessions, interactive lectures and workshops. Applications to attend the conference are still open.

Explore ADJN here.