Forced Out: Measuring the scale of conflict in South Sudan
Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)
Organisation: Al Jazeera
Organisation size: Big
Publication date: 9 Dec 2019
Credit: Carolyn Thompson, Kristen van Schie, Lagu Joseph Jackson, Thomas Holder, Anealla Safdar, and Mohammed Haddad
“FORCED OUT” tells the story of forced displacement in South Sudan following years of civil war. Al Jazeera used an innovative mobile phone survey to measuring the scale of the conflict in South Sudan. We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of land rights and forced displacement across the entire country.
The data collection reached people nationwide and provided us access to people who are in rural areas, in opposition territory, currently displaced, and who are illiterate. No other organisation had ever collected land rights data on this scale.
To our knowledge this is the most comprehensive data-driven look at the situation in South Sudan. While the data provides necessary context, the human stories are what made this story resonate with our global audience.
The story generated a lot of discussion about how land rights are important in the context of the current peace agreement, including from analysts, land rights experts, diplomats and academics. As well, the page views were quite high for such a project: 110,000 page views, and 4:42 average time on the page, 70% from mobile devices.
Almost all the analysis was done using Excel and Google Sheets. TerraServer and Google Earth were used for all the mapping and satellite imagery analysis.
To reach the largest possible audience the web page itself was built exclusively on AMP (Accelerated mobile pages). This meant a lightning fast user experience with completely put the storytelling experience ahead of any gadgetry. Visual elements including video testimonies, before/after sliders and drone footage were carefully selected to provide a detailed account of the realities on the ground.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Understanding and quantifying the realities on the ground for millions of South Sudan was not an easy process. To make matters more difficult, international journalists are all but barred from reporting from South Sudan. Rather than conceding to the reality that “there’s no data”, we decided to make our own.
It took more than eight months to run the survey, running first testing and countering the challenges of false returned data, then trying to improve the drop-off rates. Meanwhile it took many months to conduct the satellite research and on-the-ground reporting with a local journalist.
The result is a story that would have otherwise gone untold if it wasn’t for a data-driven approach.
What can others learn from this project?
Sometimes there’s just no other way to tell a story than to use data. In this case, data represented the thousands of people who were forced from their homes and displaced. These are the types of data stories that Al Jazeera prides itself in and would love to share with others from around the world.