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12 Journalists Attend Data Journalism Workshop on Net Zero in South Africa

Picture of sun shining through the clouds and smoke from smoke stacks.

In a digital age constantly grappling with information overload, journalists occupy a crucial space as investigators and sense-makers, ensuring citizens have access to the most up to date, substantiated and data-backed information about issues that impact their lives and livelihoods, such as their countries’ dependence on fossil fuels and level of commitment to decarbonize. 

The impact of burning coal has a devastating effect, not only on our environment, but also on human health. In South Africa, a landmark study from 2017 found that air pollution from the country’s coal-fired power stations killed more than 2,200 people every year. Its progress to a greener economy, is, for many, a matter of survival.  

This phase of Internews’ Earth Journalism Network’s Pathways to Net Zero project aims to enhance journalists’ data journalism skills to report on South Africa’s journey to net zero more effectively. To that end, twelve journalists attended a media training workshop on data journalism in Johannesburg, from 29th January to 1st February.  

On the first day of the workshop, program manager Laura Grant led practical sessions on how to find data for a story, from internet scrapers to navigating CVS and spreadsheets. Reflecting on the session, workshop participant Bridget Lepere said, “I have a newfound appreciation for excel sheets and what a powerful tool it can be when reporting and storytelling.”  

Participants also heard from guest speaker, Dr Luanne Stevens, who has been involved in the compilation of the last five South African greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories. She explained the process of estimating emissions and the crucial need for robust inventory data, used to plan mitigation and adaptation strategies, and shape policy.  

On day two, participants went on a fieldtrip to Komati, a decommissioned coal power station in South Africa’s traditional coal belt. The site, where a $497 million renewable energy project was recently approved by the World Bank, is a potential blueprint for the country’s just transition journey. Participants received an expansive tour, learning more about how aquaponics and agrivoltaics will form part of its new purpose.  

Group of people posing for a photo standing in front of a power plant.
Journalists gather outside Komati Power station in Mpumalanga, South Africa’s traditional coal belt/Credit: Komati.

The next day, participants heard from Mia Malan, founder and editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa. She delved into the damaging impacts that rising heat levels can have on air pollution and offered tips on how to incorporate health angles into reporting.  

That afternoon, Laura Grant and co-trainer from Media Hack Collective, Alistair Otter, led sessions on how to format and summarize data, followed by group exercises to put their skills to the test.  

Group of people sitting listening to speaker with a presentation.
The Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism is an independent media organization that specializes in narrative, solutions journalism focusing on health and social justice issues across Africa / Credit: EJN

 On the fourth and final day of the workshop, participants took part in practical exercises on how to visualize data stories. “I will feel more confident including data exploration and visualizations in my reporting. [The workshop] also opened my eyes to a variety of potential climate stories that I'm excited to explore in the future,” said journalist Julie Bourdin.  

Finally, journalist and mentor, Leonie Joubert, elaborated on the necessity of transforming complex data and ideas into clear and easily understood stories.  

Joubert led the participants through a brainstorming session, where they presented their story ideas and received feedback and guidance on next steps. “It is almost always a productive process to pitch a story idea to experienced colleagues and think it through collectively in order to refine it. EJN workshops and mentoring programs often use this approach in working with participants,” she said. 

Group of people sitting and listening to a speaker.
Leonie Joubert, who reported the award-winning story on Durban’s 2022 floods, A Perfect Storm / Credit: EJN. 

Participant Sakhile Dube said he was “honored to have been part of the workshop”, and Nica Richards said she would rely on the skills she learned at the workshop to bolster her reporting on net zero and would also train multimedia and investigative journalists to create better infographics.  

Reflecting on the workshop, Laura Grant said, “I'm very proud of the 12 participants for sticking with me through what I think may have been a steep learning curve for those who had no experience working with spreadsheets. By the end of the workshop, they were able to sort, filter and summarize a dataset and get it into the right format to make charts using Flourish. They also made a few maps using Datawrapper. I hope they will continue to practice these data skills and use them to add data-driven insights to the stories they write.” 

Look out for stories from workshop participants, which will be republished on the EJN website soon.  

Banner Image: Air pollution affects marginalized groups disproportionately, which is a worry for South Africa, which has the highest wealth inequality is the world/Credit: Pixabay via Pexels.