Use data for credibility


 Data journalism and multimedia tools boost your stories

Why would any self-respecting journalist need to learn how to cover elections? Surely it’s common sense. Not really, writes course leader GRAEME ADDISON.

Obviously, election reporting should be fair, accurate, not take sides, deal with the issues, watch for evidence of vote tampering, and cover the results objectively. What more could the public ask of the media?

Well, a lot. And with the data journalism tools now available, election reporting can be deepened and made a lot more informative for the average voter. It’s not about statistics and dry charts. It’s really about conveying the essence of each election fight simply, visually and with direct relevance to voter issues in each ward.

Angry protests over the provision of services in health, sanitation, policing, housing, education, roads and much more have shown that citizens are not happy with the way they are being governed.


Original photo: TimesLive

South Africans today face the most challenging municipal elections in the history of this young democracy. Unlike the Parliamentary elections, where there is no direct voting for candidates in constituencies, the municipal elections do involve direct ward representation by elected persons.

This gives voters power they do not have in Parliamentary elections where, essentially, MPs are answerable to the party bosses who choose to list them as candidates.

Municipal representatives must deal with local issues and are answerable to the voters.
This makes the coming municipal elections critical for signalling the real mood of voters at the level that it counts – in their daily lives. Service delivery issues are home-base. How can the media come to terms with ward elections in a way that conveys the real mood of voters?

iec 2014 election results map

Here’s the IEC’s map of what happened in the 2014 general elections. But what WILL happen in the coming municipal elections? Datasets from a variety of sources can profile the voters and reveal issues that most concern them.

Wonderful data journalism tools for mapping the wards are now available and, used together with multimedia visuals for print, broadcasting and websites, journalists can now penetrate the fog of electioneering to reveal the realities of politics on the ground.

No special data skills are needed to use these tools. All that it involves is knowing how to access them online, combining their use with normal reporting techniques to tell the stories that make for lively and informative coverage.

There is no substitute for getting out in the field to attend rallies, do interviews with candidates and their critics, and follow the argy-bargy of party politics. What data journalism story telling does is add depth and insight into election reporting.

The fast-paced workshop covers a lot of ground, dealing with the knowledge and skills needed to –
– understand the electoral system and map the wards
– cover diary events and breaking news
– target the key service delivery issues in local elections
– investigate the record of existing councillors
– use social media to engage with voters
– interpret and report opinion polls
– seek out electoral funding and the role of business
– maintain an ethical approach in the heat of elections

WORKSHOP: The Institute for the Advancement of Journalism is offering a two-day election reporting course on May 26-27 at its premises in Richmond, Johannesburg. Leading the course is Prof Graeme Addison, a media and communications specialist with an extensive background in techniques of multimedia news coverage.
Email or call Dimakatso Mathe at 011 – 482 4990. Website:

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