Altynai Mambetova

Entry type: Portfolio

Country/area: Kyrgyzstan

Publishing organisation: Asia Plus

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

My name is Altynai and I have been working as a data journalism mentor and editor since 2018 in Central Asia. My interest in data journalism has grown much after the completion of the data journalism institute where Eva Constantaras was the main trainer.

In Central Asia, data-driven journalism is perceived as a complex way of producing stories only implemented by high-ranked media organizations such as NYT, WaPo, Economist or Financial Times. However, societies in developing countries such as Central Asia need data journalism more than ever. It is an ultimate instrument to fight against corruption, inequality, misleading information.

However, there are even more challenges than opportunities. In the states like Tajikistan where a journalist can be sent to jail for 7 to 12 years for just being a reporter, any kind of free media is censored and under pressure. There is also lack of open data sources, low computer literacy among journalists, lack of data mentors and editors.

Starting from 2022 I have been a trainer and mentor for the Asia Plus media in Tajikistan supported by Internews Organization. During the mentorship program I led with other mentors Andriy Gazin and Rustam Gulov the team of Asia Plus produced their first stories. Given that most journalists have never produced data stories and have never worked with mentors and data editors, within just five months they have learnt all the stages of data story production starting from the search for the data to the data visualization.

Journalists in Tajikistan produced data stories that uncover injustice, and inequalities and reveal major issues in the socio-economic environment of Tajikistan all supported by data.
Tajikistan is a country where data availability is one of the biggest issues journalists have faced. Moreover, available data was only available in scanned or online PDF formats. Journalists took additional steps to convert PDF to Excel sheets. That is the reason why many stories are buried behind these unavailable datasets and printed reports.

Despite many challenges the team of Asia Plus together with mentors and editors created a portfolio of data projects on topics that are essential for the local communities. That is a big achievement for Tajik media organization.

Description of portfolio:

In our portfolio we are presenting three data stories about the effects of Ukrainian war and vulnerability of Tajik economy against Russia, the problems and effects of imbalanced nutrition in Tajikistan, and the widening gap between rich and poor.

Our first story is the analysis of the vulnerability index for which we used a methodology developed by researchers from the S. Rajaratnam Graduate School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore. Since the invasion of Russia effected Tajikistan in many areas, vulnerability index quantifies how the economy of Tajikistan is vulnerable.

Tha main struggle of story was to find data. Alongside with the search for data, journalists worked closely on the research methodology to carefully assess the index and understand the results of calculations. It was the first time when vulnerability of Tajikistan against Russia was put in an index in comparison with other countries. Tajikistan still remains as one the top countries which depend on remittences the most.

As a result, the article was viewed more than 10K times only on the website, and attracted even more viewers on social media platforms and channels on Telegram and Instagram.

Another story is about the widening gap between rich and poor in Tajikistan. According to the survey results the pandemic has widened the gap massively. And this gap increased by 25 times in 2020, the phenomenon has not been addressed by officials.

The analysis reveals a growing problem of inequality worsened by the effects of pandemic. For instance, poor people in Tajikistan are constantly living in debt, they spend more than they earn. It is a great example of a crucial social data analysis which was covered only by Asia Plus for different reasons. First, the government officials did not state these issues in their press-releases and, secondly, other media platforms were not able to analyze and produce data-driven story. The story attracted about 7K viewers only on the website.

The third story of the team is the uncover of the imbalanced consumption of food in Tajikistan. For the story journalists analyzed a survey dataset from an Agency for Statistics survey on how Tajikistanis eat and compared it to national dietary standards set by the government. The team also created a personalized calculator to assess the nutrition habits of each reader according to national standards.

The results of the analysis are shocking: in villages all residents are undernourished except for the bread and butter/oils. In urban areas people’s eating habits are slightly better. These all result in high rates of anemia and other health problems which are widely spread in the country. Fopr instance, one in five children under the age of five suffered from stunting in 2018. And the bulk of them live in rural areas. And the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has made malnutrition even worse among vulnerable families.

While working on the story journalists striggled to clean the dataset since it was only available in PDF version. The story attracted about 8,5K viewers only on the website and much more on social media platforms such as telegram and Instagram.

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