2021 Shortlist

Data for Change, Jordan

Country/area: Jordan

Organisation: Daraj, Amman Net, Al Ghad, Roya, Maqalat, ARIJ*/]squarespace.com

Organisation size: Small

Internews’ Data Journalism Certification Program in Jordan was the first in-depth data journalism training program offered in the Middle East and North Africa and produced the country’s first batch of of data literate local public interest journalism published throughout Jordanian media. The training manual produced for the course is now hosted as an open source resource by the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and is being used to train aspiring data journalists across the region.  

Throughout the program, journalists learned to harness data to cover critical issues related to socioeconomic reforms, local governance, and human rights by applying an inquiry-based approach to cover education inequality, violence against women, mismanagement of water and renewable energy resources, unsustainable aid to Syrian refugees and more. Participants used the growing amount of available socioeconomic data (open data since the government would not respond to FOIA requests) about Jordan to create news and feature content that more effectively engages audiences on topics important to Jordanians. 

Jordan’s media is highly partisan, public trust of media is low and freedom of the press is declining, which is why these stories came at a crucial time. This program sought out young professionals that were passionate about challenges facing their communities and bringing evidence-based explanatory reporting to tackle society’s most pressing issues. Like in much of the region and the world, the pandemic offered the government an opportunity to further restrict press freedom under the guise of its emergency response. Journalists seized the opportunity to instead of tackling corruption straight on, highlight the weak public service systems that existed long before the current crisis and engaged the public in a conversation about solutions.  

Media houses were reluctant to publish accountability reporting yet these stories ran across mainstream media and in online media houses targeting younger audiences as well. Journalists showed examples from regional stars including InfoTimes, Inkyfada and Al Jazeera to demonstrate to editors the value of incorporating data-driven content into their digital convergence strategy. Mentors from InfoTimes and 7iber also helped journalists craft powerful storytelling packages.  

Even though the program has ended, ARIJ, AmmanNet and Daraj have continued to commission and publish data stories by alumni.  

Description of portfolio:

Stories published in mainstream media focused on the issue of inequality. The major challenge for all of the stories was the dearth of data. Jordan has extremely weak FOIA laws. Though we requested over a dozen of disaggregated data sets over the course of the year, the most we received were summary tables, if we received a response at all. Editors were also reluctant to publish stories criticizing the government, though they were more willing to do so once they learned that the stories were backed by the limited data that the government had made public. Many media outlets required direct guidance by our team in how to publish embedded visualizations and none were either able or willing to share metrics on story performance. Many stories also ran as a podcast in Arabic.

Gender Inequality 

Despite having achieved gender equality at most levels of education, Jordan’s women are still laregely absent from the job market and these stories look at the systemic reasons behind Jordan’s persistent gender inequality. Jordanian Women Want Tech More than Tech Want them published by AmmanNet and as a podcast debunks a belief that women do not work in tech because they do not pursue STEM education, when women in fact match men in STEM degrees. Education Associated with Less Domestic Violence but Fails to Break Culture of Silence, published in Al Ghad newspaper, explores how the education level of men and women correlates with incidence and reporting of gender based violence. Touching on a taboo topic, Marital Rape: Silent Victims published in AmmanNet uses survey data to reveal the prevalence of marital rape in Jordan, that most women stay silent and why. Finally, a story published in Al Ghad explores US cuts to funding for reproductive health programs and other women’s services despite an overall twofold increase in US aid to Jordan and the impact on women seeking services.

Income Inequality

Many stories seek to identify the root causes of Jordan’s booming income inequality in the context of the regional economic challenges. ‘Not in My Back Yard’: Western Countries Pay Billions of Dollars to Keep Doors Shut and Syrian Refugees Homeless published in Daraj and written by a Syrian refugee journalists compares the amount of aid that Western donors provide to keep temporary refugee shelters in Jordan open to the lesser cost and higher payoff of resettling refugees in Western countries. It follows the fates of two men, one successfully relocated to Europe and another stuck in a refugee camp in Jordan. A story in AmmanNet demonstrates that even for Jordanians, one of the few avenues to becoming part of the middle class, is to get an education and then work abroad and how the pandemic is causing Jordan to rethink an economy that is so dependent on remittances. An explanatory piece in Al Ghad newspaper explores while small businesses have been profiting off the green energy boom, outdated agreements, incomplete legislation, and poor planning are behind the government’s losses from clean energy which is hurting the very businesses that have gone green. The last piece of the year looked at the single most important predictor of whether a child in Jordan will succeed in school (at any level): family wealth. It explores how poor families are locked out of the middle class because their children are denied access to an education that would make them competitive in the Jordanian job market or abroad.

The Internews Data Journalism Training Manual for Jordan, available in English and Arabic and hosted by ARIJ, has had nearly 1000 downloads.

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