How Data Journalism Can Promote Accountability and Transparency?
Data journalism or data-driven journalism (DDJ) or precision journalism is the journalistic process that involves collecting, pre-processing, analyzing, and visualization of big data. Data journalists unravel patterns, discover knowledge diamonds, and tell compelling stories with their findings from the standpoint of evidence. Data journalism became necessary with the "datafication" of society. The volume, veracity, and velocity with which data is being produced, coupled with its value and variety, make it too enormous to ignore in the quest to fill knowledge gaps. According to International Journalist Network, data journalism has been around since the 1960s. Journalists in Nigeria have not been able to find the sweet spot between journalism and data despite the advance in technology and increased computing power. In contrast to other journalists, data journalists stand out in their ability to produce stories with accurate data analysis by uncovering patterns that are not possible using analog journalistic methods. Data journalism practices require experience in programming, user experience, and statistics.
The interconnected processes in data journalism produce stories characterized by very high user interactivity, especially when stories are told with info-graphics, creating opportunities for citizens' engagement on an enormous scale. The interactive nature of data journalism makes it participatory, and it is in sharp contrast to more static forms of reporting (Felle 2016). Citizens' engagement presents every individual the opportunity to influence and change political, social, economic, and public decisions and allows citizens to become essential components in the governance structure and the democratic process, which derives its power from the people. Data journalism is a step further in influencing citizens' engagement in caring and willingness to take action. It paves the way for governance through numbers.
Journalists serve an essential role in providing investigative reports, debates, discussions, information background and analysis, news stories, and fresh eyes on old stories. Even more so, data journalists collect data on national issues. They also collect data on the intended and unintended impact of government policies. Using their data analytics skillset and technology, data journalists create data measurement to provide new structured data on issues with no data. These data can expose hidden truths, thereby unearthing unnoticed problems, bringing them to the limelight and up for public discourse. Data journalists can, through data collection, enhance public engagement. A typical exam is the unintended consequence of the Twitter ban in Nigeria. The financial loss due to the ban is $6million per day (Varrella, 2021). Even with the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill in 2011, it cannot successfully address the challenges of corruption in high places, bad governance, lack of transparency, and accountability because of poor record management by public servants. One of the pillars of transparency and accountability in a democratic state is the extent to which people have access to information to assist them in evaluating whether the government is transparent or not (Igbokwe-Ibeto, 2013).
Data journalists can
fill this void created by public servants due to poor record management by collecting data around governance issues, making them available in real-time, and allowing citizens to react to problems immediately.
Making public data available to citizens can create an enabling environment for citizens' engagement, allowing citizens to hold public office holders accountable.
At the same time, strengthening institutions and the democratic process through transparency and accountability, the collection of data gives journalists the independence to report stories in detail from all sides, alienating the perception of skewness associated with traditional reporting, which might be for ulterior motives (Okoro et al.,).
Data journalists, with their data analytics skills, can properly frame problems to inform and engage citizens. According to Snow and Benford (1988), there are three concepts of framing: diagnostic, prognostic, and motivational framing.
Data journalists diagnose problems using data to get to the root cause and apportion the citizens' blame according to levels of responsibility. They do not stop there. Using data also, they proffer solutions to the diagnosed problem and distribute duties to citizens based on levels of responsibility while identifying motivational factors thus, creating the enabling environment for citizens' engagement.
The alternative form of news gathering and reporting presented by data journalism can take the form of activism and advocacy. When data journalists spend time investigating complex issues and unraveling truths invisible to the naked eye, they become experts on that issue. Sometimes writing about it alone will not cause the desired change, so with data as their battle-ax, they take the route of activism and advocacy. According to World Peace Foundation, with Nigeria showing the symptoms of a failed state, advocacy and social activism for the survival of our nation has to be backed up by data; that way, it is devoid of any bias.
"War is a mere continuation of politics by other means" . Other means here could include propaganda, fake news, misinformation, and disinformation.
Information warfare and the progressive densification of information sources and information flow with big data with its accompanying challenges pose new threats to the field of journalism and society at large.
The data journalist has the burden to prove or disprove facts or opinions. The data journalist also has the extra responsibility to verify the authenticity of data and data sources.
Data journalists can verify the origins of videos and pictures circulating online by pinpointing where they emanated from using their skill set and technology. Nigeria's political sector and the public sphere are prone to attack from maleficent influencers (Okoro et al.).
As society's moral arbiter, the data journalist is responsible for running forensics on data sources, thereby leveling the playing field and annulling false narratives, especially during electioneering periods in Nigeria characterized by fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. The current belief in Nigeria is that votes do not count. This narrative leads to voter apathy; data journalists can strengthen confidence in the democratic process by providing real-time analysis of election results and voting patterns.