The #PanamaPapers story broke over 3 weeks ago but the amount of information to process is still staggering. Last Friday, the Hacks & Hackers Nairobi meetup offered an opportunity to interact with Kenyan journalists and technologists who were involved in this worldwide investigation. In Kenya, the leak led to revelations of millions of Kenyan Shillings worth of assets tucked away in a tax haven by Deputy Chief Justice Kalpana Rawal.
We discussed the risks that journalists incur to chase such a high profile story as well as the benefits of collaborating across several media houses nationally and internationally. What struck me the most was the long exchange between journalists, technology specialists and civil society activists on how all three groups could work in unison to uncover corruption scandals but also to spark the public’s interest in a context of information fatigue.
Currently, few techies work inside newsrooms, and while hiring an external analyst would make sense in some cases, it may be difficult to convince an editor to spend resources on that particular story. Besides, the secrecy surrounding investigations of public figures implies an extra layer of caution in sharing information with external parties so that some journalists feel safer teaching themselves some key technical skills to keep their work under wraps as long as possible.
However, there is a real added value to collaborating with techies on stories that involve large amounts of data. Techies interested in matters of public interest can help journalists access key documents and, further down the line, use their skills to analyse vast amounts of data. Take the Panama Papers for example: the leak consisted of 2.6 terabytes of data that could only be exploited by journalists after they had been digitised and uploaded onto collaborative platforms. Short of such a technical infrastructure, the investigation would have taken several years and may not even have seen the light of day.
Ultimately, what makes for a compelling news story is a combination of serious research and analysis with engaging storytelling that humanises the topic. For data journalists, tying the findings to everyday consequences affecting Kenyans is probably just as important as doing the groundwork of liberating data and crunching numbers.
For more on what went down at Nairobi Garage on Friday, you may want to look up #HHNBO on Twitter.