Winners of $1m in Grants Focus on Citizen Engagement, Investigative Tools and Whistleblower Security

Twenty African media innovators will receive a total of $1 million to develop digital projects that improve the quality of news across the continent, as part of the first African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC).

Many recipients concentrated on enhancing citizen journalism, investigative reporting and source protection.

ANIC is the largest fund for digital journalism experimentation in Africa. It is designed to spur solutions to the business, distribution and workplace challenges facing the African news industry. The contest was organized by the African Media Initiative (AMI), the continent’s largest association of media owners and operators, and managed by Knight International Journalism Fellow Justin Arenstein. The fellowships are administered by the International Center for Journalists.

A jury of 15 international media strategists, technology innovators and other experts evaluated more than 500 project plans before selecting winners from a shortlist of 40 projects. Arenstein announced the winners in Kigali, Rwanda, on November 28, at the African Editors’ Forum annual meeting.

“Each of our winners tries to solve a real-world problem facing African journalists,” said Arenstein. “This includes the public’s growing concern about the manipulation of online content as well as security for whistleblowers or journalistic sources.”

Some winners will develop mobile apps that allow citizens to report on corruption, he noted. Others will create improved infographics that use data to better explain complex issues. Several focused on improving access to information, with projects such as beaming content into buses and taxis, or using drone aircraft to provide coverage of isolated communities.

Some recipients will develop technology that improves newsroom workflow systems and boost revenue.

Winners will receive grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, plus additional technology support from a team of four full-time developers at AMI’s jAccelerator lab in Kenya. They will also get business development mentoring from top media strategists affiliated with the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA). Ten of the winners will also be flown to the annual MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference in the United States, sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

All projects have the potential to be replicated by media organizations throughout Africa, or to be scaled up across the continent to create broad and sustained impact.

“Finding and supporting great ideas for improving news reporting was one of our chief aims,” said AMI Chief Executive Amadou Mahtar Ba. “But an equally important objective was to kick-start a pan-African community of news innovators and journalism technologists. We are thrilled that ANIC has accomplished this goal. Now, people across the continent can work on collaborative projects that raise the skills and knowledge in the media industry.”

ANIC’s founding partners include Google, Omidyar Network, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Knight Foundation, the U.S. State Department, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) and WAN-IFRA.

“We want to see journalism flourish in the digital age in Africa,” said Peter Barron, Google’s director of external relations for Europe, Middle East and Africa. “The African News Innovation Challenge has helped spur some really exciting projects from across the continent. We’re looking forward to seeing these projects unfold and to working further with African journalists who are using technologies to gather and tell important stories.”

John’s project, Africa’s Wealth (renamed NewsStack) – Nigeria/Namibia integrates a new generation of forensic data analysis tools such as DocumentCloud, Poderopedia, Overview and Mapa76, into a unified and reusable journalist toolkit. The kit will be used in a yearlong, pan-African investigation by 10 media organizations into the continent’s extractive industries.

More on the African News Challenge can be found here.