impactAFRICA, Africa’s first data-driven investigative journalism initiative, has launched, with $500,000 in grants and technical support for reporting that tackles development issues such as public healthcare using data.

The initiative is the result of a partnership between Code for Africa and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). It is open to applicants from six African countries: Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia.

“We will help newsrooms use data and digital tools to produce the type of hard-hitting reportage and compelling storytelling that shapes public discourse and gets the attention of policymakers,” says impactAFRICA manager Haji Mohamed Dawjee. “This isn’t just journalism for the sake of journalism; we’re looking to change lives.”

This is the first of four impactAFRICA calls for applications, and the deadline for submissions is April 15.

impactAFRICA will provide technical and material support to 10 projects shortlisted from the applications. It will then award three additional cash prizes for the best investigative report, the best data-driven story, and the best service journalism project.

Proposals should focus on in-depth reporting on hidden, neglected or under-reported health and development issues. The resulting projects should offer compelling storytelling, told in an original way that uses digital techniques for improved audience engagement, and that also uses data to personalise or localise stories for maximum impact.

“The digital revolution has changed what people expect from news. No one wants to be force-fed news about ‘big issues’ anymore. The public is also tired of fearmongering. Instead, people want to be empowered by the news. They want to understand how news affects them personally and they want to know how to use any insights they get from the news to do something tangible,” says Justin Arenstein of Code for Africa. “Technology enables us to help newsrooms meet these expectations.”

impactAFRICA will facilitate an intensive skills programme to help journalists prepare their applications. This includes a series of webinars, along with regular online interaction with global experts and mentors to help applicants brainstorm solutions to technical challenges.

After taking part in the initiative, successful applicants will be expected to build innovative story projects using everything from data-driven mobile technologies, to data visualisation and interactive mapping. Code for Africa will also support grantees by helping them to secure syndication into media across the world.

Funding for impactAFRICA comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Bank and French media cooperation agency CFI.

“This initiative will help African journalists leapfrog many of the obstacles facing their newsrooms, by taking advantage of new technologies and by drawing on the continent’s best digital strategists,” adds Mohamed Dawjee. “It will also help African journalists set new benchmarks for investigative reporting, strengthening scrutiny on issues that affect the health and wellbeing of African citizens.”

“This initiative is a good example of how we can use technology and data to enrich coverage of key development issues in Africa”, says ICFJ president Joyce Barnathan.

impactAFRICA will offer a second investigative contest in late 2016, and will also offer two other thematic competitions for beat reporters.

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