Blaise Aboh is the Executive Director of Orodata Science and Civic Tech, a non-profit organisation that synthesises the use of data science, technology, design, and research to nurture innovation in media, enhance government capacity, and citizen access to information. He is attributed to the earliest known use case for AI, algorithms, and robotics to generate news stories in the public domain in Nigeria, with the development of ‘Fintel Envoy’ and ‘Vote-ron’ Robotic Software (2018/19). Blaise has authored courses such as Automating News Production, AI and Algorithms in Journalism, and Platforms and Algorithmic Accountability (2020). You can see some of them here. He is an Obama Foundation Leader, a CFA Innovation Fellow, and Othoway Fellow. Blaise has trained thousands of reporters in Nigeria and won the Quartz Atlas for Africa Award in 2017 for his enthusiastic use of Quartz’s Atlas to create more Africa-focused data visualisations.
Where his journey in data journalism started
“In December 2013 I launched my first data project with a focus on improving citizen engagement in the 2014 general elections in Nigeria. In the beginning, you know, it began with just data analytics and then, I found data for social good more appealing. Initially I was basically democratising datasets from government agencies and enhancing government capacity to effectively communicate its data and policies publicly,” says Blaise.
It was in 2017, when he became a recipient of the Code for Africa Innovation Fellowship and led their academy training that Blaise started to train and inspire newsrooms to use data in more informative and impactful ways.
"Initially I was basically democratising datasets from government agencies and enhancing government capacity to effectively communicate its data and policies publicly”
How he trained journalists to use data
In two and a half years, across major newsrooms Blaise trained over 600 reporters in over 250 newsroom training sessions – which amounts to more than 700 hours in topics such as data journalism, investigative reporting, data visualisation and geo journalism. Blaise noticed that most of the senior editorial staff were in the 40-50-year-old age group and were not digital natives. It took some time to build relationships, and introduce ideas and ways of working with data that made it less intimidating or far to reach.
It took some time to build relationships, and introduce ideas and ways of working with data that made it less intimidating or far to reach.
“Not all journalists can learn and pick up all skills… some will favour maps, some will favour data analysis, some video.” Blaise said of his training that he first tries to inspire journalists by showing them what they can aspire to do and what good data journalism looks like. And then he dives into the actual skills training.
Why fellowships are important
“I write when I feel deeply,” he says. For instance, in 2016, Blaise was moved to write about the conflict between herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria. In this article he presented the timeline of attacks and killings in a simple data visual.
But he knows it’s not always the same for the hard working journalists that he has given training to. “Journalists are working to feed families. They are paid like teachers. It doesn’t compare to a software engineer’s salary.” Writing about certain topics and beats within such demanding timeframes doesn’t always allow journalists to feel inspired. Fellowships are really important for this reason. Blaise sees immense benefit in Fellowships for this reason. Fellowships afford journalists the time and support to dig into a story and apply new skills in their storytelling.
Fellowships afford journalists the time and support to dig into a story and apply new skills in their storytelling.
Are you interested in Fellowship opportunities to write data stories? Africa Data Hub’s Fellowship programmes are designed to give journalists across the continent the funding, support and opportunity to create accurate, powerful stories backed by rich datasets and engaging visualisations. Sign up to our newsletter to find out when applications are open in your area.
What are the next innovations in media that we can get excited about
Visualising data in infographics was a media innovation a few years ago. Check out the variety of infographics that Orodata have shared on twitter in the last few years. In recent years, the explosion of social video platforms like YouTube, Triller, TikTok and Instagram, requires that news publishers consider video options for stories they publish on digital platforms.
Blaise is exploring the impact of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in data analytics and journalism. For example, he is interested in how content might be generated automatically for sports news using reporting templates and calculating relevant statistics using live data feeds. He has developed several chatbots (conversational AIs) around finance, government and elections in order to demonstrate the immense gains of automation and AI.
This is the one in a series of interviews with some inspiring professionals in data journalism. To learn about how they do what they do, subscribe to our newsletter for more.