Monday, March 25, 2013

Penplusbytes Participates In CODEO’s Post Elections Stakeholders Review Workshop

Penplusbytes is participating in a two-day post elections workshop together with other major election stakeholders in Ghana to reflect and deliberate on key issues around the 2012 Ghana elections at the Holy Trinity Spa and Health Farm at Sogakope in the Volta region.

The workshop, scheduled for 25th and 26th March 2013, will provide a platform for stakeholders to discuss and share best practices on the elections and improve on methods and processes for future elections in the country.

The workshop forms part of post-elections activities of the Coalition of Domestic Elections Observers (CODEO) and “seeks to identify the positive and negative aspects of the 2012 electoral process.”

Discussions will be based on pre-election, election-day and post-election issues. It will thus, review the preparations towards the elections, roles played by stakeholders and activities that took place after voting. Challenges in executing activities by civil society organizations will also be identified during the workshop.

According to Mr. P. N. K Aborampah Mensah of the CODEO Secretariat, “Participants will be drawn from key constitutional bodies, including the Electoral Commission and the National Commission for Civic Education, Civil Society Organizations, the media and the development partners, among other relevant stakeholders.” He adds that “presentations and discussion at the workshop will be compiled into a publication to serve as a source book on the 2012 elections, and will also serve as a reference document for electoral reforms.”

Mr. Jerry Sam, Projects Director of the African Elections Project run by Penplusbytes, who is participating in the event acknowledges that “this workshop comes at an opportune time when Ghana is entrenching its democratic credentials and using state institutions to resolve electoral disputes and hope this workshop will come up with concrete and practical solutions in conducting peaceful, transparent and credible future elections in Ghana.”

The African Elections Project was established in 2008 by the International Institute of ICT Journalism (Penplusbytes)  with the vision of enhancing the ability of journalists, citizen journalists and the news media to provide more timely and relevant elections information and knowledge while undertaking monitoring of specific and important aspects of governance and has since covered twelve elections across Africa.

Friday, March 22, 2013

USAID-Humanity United Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention

The USAID and Humanity United has launched the second round of the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention, a technology competition in support of the White House strategy for preventing mass atrocities - that is, large-scale, deliberate attacks against civilians. The goal of the Challenge is to engage the broader technologist, engineering, scientific and maker communities on the issue of how best to prevent and respond to mass atrocities.

The Tech Challenge offers prizes of up to $10,000 for innovative solutions to some of the most intractable problems in the field of atrocity prevention. Both Humanity United and USAID will also consider piloting and / or scaling the most promising innovations.

A distinguished panel of judges (including Patrick Ball, Patrick Meier, Samantha Power, Alec Ross and Ethan Zuckerman) evaluate the proposals and determine the winners.

The first round, launched in October 2012, focused on two specific challenges: how better to document evidence of atrocities, and how better to identify third party enablers of atrocities (i.e. states, corporations, groups or individuals who provide support to perpetrators). The winners of the first round were announced on February 13th, 2013. These include a mobile phone app that allows physicians in developing countries to better document evidence of atrocities, as well as a proposal for a tool that allows product designers to ensure that a product's electronic components are 'conflict-free'.

The second round, launched on March 6th, focuses on three critical issues: better modeling to help predict at-risk communities, improved communication with and among conflict-affected communities, and better technology to help gather and verify information from hard-to-access areas. We are looking for innovative (albeit feasible) ideas, as opposed to finished prototypes.

In addition to the prizes associated with the Challenge itself, we are interested in providing additional funding to help pilot and scale the most promising innovations, though we will approach this on a case-by-case basis. We are also committed to playing a match-making role, helping to link winners and other interesting innovations to other foundation and bilateral donors. Finally, we are thinking through ways to provide technical, non-financial support to participants 

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

CAR hits the mainstream Computer-assisted reporting is being recognized as an important journalistic discipline

CAR hits the mainstream Computer-assisted reporting is being recognized as an important journalistic discipline

By Susan McGregor

It's been more than a year since The New York Times declared this The Age of Big Data, but for most Americans, the news really hit home on election night, 2012.

Nate Silver's uncannily accurate predictions about how the presidential race would turn out made him one of the most talked about people of the campaign, even in media circles, where the journalistic merit of Silver's statistically driven work was vigorously debated.

Yet Silver's work is arguably less revolution than evolution, one facet of a journalistic practice that has actually been around for decades, even if, like Silver, it only recently made it into the mainstream.

"We started out with this a long time ago—before the Web, before even reasonably simple computers," says Sarah Cohen, editor of the computer-assisted reporting (CAR) team at The New York Times. As early as the late 1960s, journalists like Philip Meyer and Elliott Jaspin were using social science methods and data analysis—sometimes with the help of mainframe computers—to generate and test their journalistic hypotheses. "That was how a generation of us learned what [computer-assisted reporting] was," says Cohen.

CAR is a practice that, while producing powerful results (see the Pulitzers of Jaspin, Meyer, Dedman, and others) for many years existed only at the margins of most newsrooms, the domain of a few motivated reporters. For much of that time, the methods of CAR hewed closely to those described in Meyer's seminal book, Precision Journalism, and the tools remained fairly constant: spreadsheets, database software, and, eventually online resources. Likewise, the end product was the same as for any other news story: a printed text article.

In recent years, however, a slew of new terms have filtered into journalists' vocabularies and job titles, like data journalism, computational journalism, news apps, and data visualization. To the uninitiated, what these descriptors mean—much less how they differ—may seem inscrutable. Yet even to insiders, their intersections and boundaries are often hard to resolve, and somewhere behind the semantics hovers a difficult question: Are these just new methods for executing the old jobs of journalism, or are they a fundamentally new philosophy of what journalism can be?

"In terms of terminology, I think it can be both misleading and enlightening," says Troy Thibodeaux, the editor for newsroom innovation at the Associated Press. "It's a very strange thing, because we're all doing very closely related work."

But what is it?

Perhaps the first step in discussing these practices is to distinguish between process and product. News apps and data visualization generally describe a class of publishing formats, usually a combination of graphics (interactive or otherwise) and reader-accessible databases. Because these end products are typically driven by relatively substantial data sets, their development often shares processes with CAR, data journalism, and computational journalism. In theory, at least, the latter group is format agnostic, more concerned with the mechanisms of reporting than the form of the output.

"CAR reporters are good at getting records," says Reg Chua, data editor at Thomson Reuters. "A lot of CAR is data journalism; it's interrogating data. Computational journalism represents a new step in what you can do—use of computers, and the processing power of computers and programming, to do types of reporting that were unimaginable even a few years ago."

Harnessing that computational power, however, has meant bringing new practitioners into the field, and their ideas come from outside the typical CAR tradition.

"Now there's this whole other path of people who were developers who have a very different perspectives," says Thibodeaux.

At this year's National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR) conference in early March, Thibodeaux created and moderated a panel called "From CAR to newsapps and back again," composed of two-person teams that have collaborated to produce some of the most influential work in digital journalism.

While on the whole the tone of the panel was mutually complimentary, Sarah Cohen conceded that some journalists still tend to trivialize the visual aspects of journalism.

"There are still some editors, though they are fewer and fewer, who really just think of graphics and interactive as just the candy," rather than a legitimate news format, she says.

For their part, however, the developers present seemed to welcome a move towards more story-driven news apps and visualizations.

"News apps are now edited, which is fairly new," said Derek Willis, interactive developer at The New York Times. "I think we now hope to treat the editing process as seriously as you do with any story, including asking, 'Does this work? Does it deserve to stay up?' I think this has been the growth in the domain."

Yet while many news app developers will agree that news apps need story, they also assert that journalism needs news apps, which Thibodeaux says do "the thing that a story can't do, which is let you drill down."

Rather than focusing only on individual, moment-in-time accounts, Chua says, journalistic publishing needs to include work that is both more focused and more incremental. "The real example of this is Homicide Watch: It updates in essentially real time, and you can drop in anytime and see what the trends are." This sort of in-progress publishing, Chua believes, is essential, "if we want to get all the value of all the reporting we do every day, and also better serve these communities."

What's next?

Whether or not they agree on the need to diversify the way news is published, CAR reporters, data editors, and news app developers alike see new technologies changing the way that journalism is both conceptualized and executed.

As much was indicated by the strong impression made on many attendees by Jeff Larson and Chase Davis's NICAR presentation, "Practical machine learning: Tips, tricks and real-world examples for using machine learning in the newsroom."

"I'm pretty conservative on this stuff," says Thibodeaux. "Source reporting leads to the best data reporting." But after Larson and Davis's presentation, he says, he can see how "the techniques start to act like sources. The tools let us ask questions that we couldn't even conceive of before."

Likewise, Cohen sees significant opportunities in algorithmic document analysis. "Our ability to make sense of messy original records has been revolutionized," she says.

Whether the broader use of data science tools to do journalism will increase the acceptance of work like Silver's remains to be seen, but his methods are more likely to be embraced than abandoned. If nothing else, the economic advantages of offloading more work to machines is hard to finesse:

"We don't have the financial wherewithal to waste the kind of time we waste," says Cohen. "If we spend a week doing document analysis that could be done by an algorithm, then we deserve to be replaced by machines."

"We need to reserve the work for things that take human creativity and human insight

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International Institute for ICT Journalism

Monday, March 18, 2013

Penplusbytes Undertakes Write-Shop on Oil and Gas Media Guide Production

In an effort to continually promote excellence in journalism, Penplusbytes over the weekend assembled a team of energy experts and journalists on oil and gas at the Capital View Hotel in Koforidua to undertake a writeshop on the way forward in developing a media guide for Ghanaian journalists to effectively undertake in-depth and investigative pieces on Ghana's oil and gas revenue and resources.

The guide will seek to educate and inform journalists about the chronology of events and the geopolitics surrounding Ghana’s oil and gas exploration, contracts and licensing, the money trail & the economics of oil and Gas. The media guide will throw more light on environmental issues and the legal and regulatory framework of the oil and gas sector and provide leads and pointers for journalists in their pursuit of ensuring transparency and accountability of key stakeholders in the sector.

Speaking on the importance of the write-shop, Mr. Jerry Sam, Penplusbytes Projects’ director noted that “this write-shop approach in developing the guide was adopted as it is useful in speeding up the production of the guide as materials and content for the guide can be revised and put into final form as quickly as possible, taking full advantage of the expertise of the various writeshop participants.”

Dr. Joe Asamoah, an expert on renewable energy and a participant noted that “this media guide when published will serve as reference material for journalists interested in covering pertinent issues on the Ghana’s oil and gas and report effectively on the sector. It will make information available to citizens to equip them to demand accountability from the government”

The write-shop forms part of Penplusbytes’ “Empowering the media to play an active role over oil and gas revenu...” project with funding from STAR-Ghana. The project seeks to improve coverage of oil and gas stories by the Ghanaian media leading to an increase in the quantity and quality (in terms of in-depth and investigative reporting) of oil and gas stories in Ghana and at the same facilitate knowledge exchange between the media and CSOs on key oil and gas revenue and resource issues.

Other activities lined up apart from the media guide include orientation with journalists on reporting oil and gas. Journalists will also benefit from a mentorship programme as well embark on educational field trips. The project will also make use of an interactive and collaborative online platform for information and knowledge exchange between CSOs and media for better advocacy in the sector.

Monday, March 11, 2013

An Analysis of the Media in Ghana 2012 elections by AEP

International Institute of ICT Journalism (Penplusbytes), through its authoritative African Elections Project, is adding to its list of publications, a journal on how selected media in Ghana covered violence in the recently held elections.

The publication “Emergent Confrontational Political Subculture: A Content analysis of Media Coverage of Violence in the  2012 General Elections of Ghana” provides a content analysis of how newspapers, television, radio and online news platforms reported on violence beginning from the biometric registration through to voting and a few days after polls with the use of some key words and guidelines. It also reflects the three major frames used by the media in its coverage - human interest frame, responsibility frame to diagnostic frame.

According to findings in the publication, motives for election-related violence were mostly mixed-motivated while state-motivated conflict appeared the least. The publication also reveals that the media reportage of elections related incidents with a negative perspective, instead of a positive or neutral outlook. It also revealed that most of these conflicts were carried out by party supporters and actions were in the form of harassment, show of strength and actual call to violence.

Director of Penplusbytes, Kofi Mangesi, said “this publication comes against the background that all over the world, the media’s contribution to the electoral process is a sensitive subject as it is responsible for the inflammation of passions among citizens of various political, ethnic and social groups. It therefore provides an extensive analysis of how selected media organizations in Ghana responded to issues of violence in the general elections.”

Commenting on the publication, the editor, Prof. P. Amponsah also added that “A strong electoral system cannot be easily circumvented by such foul means as cheating, show of strength, and intimidation of voters. Therefore, by introducing balance in the composition of the electoral management body and the electoral system generally would obviate incentives for inciting violence at various stages of the electoral cycle.”

Penplusbytes’ ultra-modern media monitoring center in collaboration with Prof. P. Amponsah produced this publication with funding from STAR-Ghana. The publication is available in hard copy and soft copy online.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Call for Submissions: Knight News Challenge on Open Government

In many ways it's easier than it's ever been to learn about and interact with the institutions and communities around us. But there's a long way to go. How can we make the places we live more awesome through data and technology? How can we make public information more relevant and useful? 

The Knight News Challenge accelerates media innovation by funding breakthrough ideas in news and information. Winners receive a share of $5 million in funding and support from Knight's network of influential peers and advisors to help advance their ideas.
The idea of open government has had a rather winding journey—from the first datasets opened to the public, to apps for reporting potholes, to open systems that track the movement of disease across the world. Dedicated groups of talented people have attempted everything from opening IRS data locked in millions of PDFs to collectively writing legislation online. Some projects have succeeded; many more have failed. But collectively we have more information than ever before about what works, what does not, and what we should try in pursuit of more open and productive interactions between citizens and our governments.

This News Challenge is an opportunity to accelerate promising ideas and trends. Our definition of "open government" is broad, and ranges from small projects within existing structures to ambitious attempts to create entirely new ones. To use an architectural analogy, we're interested in everything from putting a new coat of paint on the house to razing the house and replacing it with a geodesic dome.

Through this contest, we hope to help extend the spirit of open gov and to catalyze partnerships between hackers, civic innovators, governments, journalists and others. We also want to drive more open government wins in local communities, particularly beyond big cities. And we want to reinforce the idea that the promise of open government cuts across ideological, demographic and geographic lines. 

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International Institute for ICT Journalism

Thursday, March 07, 2013


The Dag Hammarskjöld Fund for Journalists is now accepting applications from professional journalists from developing countries for its 2013 fellowship program. The application deadline is Friday, April 5, 2013.

The fellowships are available to radio, television, print and web journalists, age 25 to 35, from developing countries who are interested in coming to New York to report on international affairs during the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The fellowships will begin in early September and extend to late November and will include the cost of travel and accommodations in New York, as well as a per diem allowance.

The fellowship program is open to journalists who are native to one of the developing countries in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean, and are currently working full-time for a bona fide media organization in a developing nation. Applicants must demonstrate an interest in and commitment to international affairs and to conveying a better understanding of the United Nations to their readers and audiences. More details here:
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International Institute for ICT Journalism

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Penplusbytes Features Demba Ali Jawo

Demba is a Gambian journalist with more than 30 years working experience. With a diploma in journalism from the International Institute for Journalism in Berlin, he has served in various capacities in the media in the Gambia, including President of the Gambia Press Union, Course Coordinator of the Media Training Centre in Banjul and Editor in Chief of The Independent.

He is presently editor and head of the English desk at the African Press Agency (APA news) in Dakar, Senegal.

He has particular interest in training and writing social and political commentaries. He also has a passion for writing books; co-author of ‘A Living Mirror: The Life of Deyda Hydara’ and also recently published ‘Focus: Challenges of The Gambia’s Transition to Democracy’.

If you want to feature on send your full name, brief profile and picture to

Monday, March 04, 2013

African Elections Project covers Kenya’s 2013 Elections

African Elections Project (AEP) with its long standing experience of covering elections across Africa will be providing online monitoring and coverage of the Kenya general elections with the use of web 2.0 tools and social media.

AEP will provide up to the minute news and comprehensive analysis of the elections before, during and after the elections to serve citizens of Kenya both at home and in the diaspora as well as the international community.

Mr. Jeremiah Sam, project coordinator of AEP said “The African Elections Project will leverage on Kenya’s already large online audience and provide a platform for citizens to contribute to the electoral process, be updated with the manifestoes and provide regular analysis of the contesting candidates so they can make informed choices at the polls.

He added that “at the end of the polls a comprehensive report will be generated on how the use of social media shaped the 2013 Kenyan elections which will serve as a reference document for other countries to follow suite as they seek to entrench their democracy.”

The social media tools deployed will also offer an interactive avenue for citizens to engage AEP reporters on the field as to the events taking place with regards to the elections which would build their confidence about the whole process.

The 2007 Kenyan elections were unexpectedly marred by violent outbursts as a result of allegations of electoral manipulations and fraud. Some 1,200 people lost their lives and more than 600,000 were displaced after Mwai Kibaki won over Raila Odinga by a narrow margin in an election widely believed to be compromised by irregularities.

The eyes of the world are fixed on the 2013 Kenyan elections where Kenyans will be voting to elect leaders in six positions; the President, Senators, County Governors, Members of Parliament, Civic Wards and Women County Representatives

AEP will be using its authoritative and renowned online knowledge platform ( and also feature live tweets from election centers (@africanelection).