Uzbekistan’s Media – Turning Data into News
14 Oct 2016
By Blogging Consultant James Brindley
Dilfuza Ruzieva of the ‘Olmaliq Haqiqati’ (Truth of Olmaliq) - one of the Tashkent region newspapers - wrote about the refurbishment of public schools since the time of Uzbekistan’s independence.
It was a fairly simple process, taking 12 lots of figures off the data.toshvil.uz open data website, with which to build the article. Just few years back things would have been different – what is now a 30-minute process would have involved waiting for most of a month.
“It would have been possible to write the same article without open data, but there would have been big difficulties,” Ms. Ruzieva shared with UNDP Uzbekistan.
“We would have written an official letter to government organizations for information, and have waited for several days before the answer would come.”
Ms. Ruzieva was one of 20 other multi-industry journalists who learnt essential skills for simplifying and facilitating their trade at a June training event, conducted by the ‘Local Governance Support Programme/ Phase 2’.
(LGSP-II has supported efforts by the Uzbekistan government in enhancing the ability of regional and district level authorities to de-centralize and de-concentrate administrative and fiscal authority. This has been an on-going, multi-partnered process - you can review the achievements of the predecessor initiative here)
A new information highway
The open-data training for journalists is one of several e-governance initiatives implemented by UNDP projects. Drawing on international expertise national skills, the focus was on making data transference and collection faster and simpler.
The E-Hujjat system, established in the first stage of the LGSP programme, helped government offices advance from paperwork to online content, which helped information retrieval and delivery of public services much simpler. The E-Sud initiative aims to achieve similar outcomes for the legal system.
The last two years have seen e-governance take a step further through the creation of several open data websites, providing information about all aspects of Uzbekistan society from the health system and demographics, to statistics about business and education.
There are several publicly-access websites now available – data.gov.uz provides national-level information, while the data.toshvil.uz, data.jizzax.uz and data.namangan.uz sites contain data directly relevant to the Tashkent, Jizzakh and Namangan regions.
Bringing the information online is only one part of the challenge - the information needs to be processed into an accessible format and added to the public sphere, which is where the media takes charge. As the latest in a training series for journalists, June’s event presented not only the fastest ways of access data, but also best means of interpreting and presenting it as news.
This process is of course essential in crafting accurate, human-oriented and engaging stories, like the one produced and published by Ms. Ruzieva.
Introducing Data Journalism
The worldwide push for data journalism is fueled by the need for objectivity in news, for interactive, visual-based content, and for information that can be ‘digested’ quickly and easily from a website. A recent regional-level open data workshop held in Bratislava is testament to its importance, as are the 222 e-governance and open information projects UNDP runs globally.
Data journalism is also being broadly studied on an academic level – it’s importance for future trends has been recognized. This is an expensive, heavily-skilled, highly-technical field, but one essential for building information exchange and transparency.
For busy newspapers like Olmaliq Haqiqati, having access to a centralized bank of localized information like data.toshvil.uz is a cost-effective work solution. It keeps Uzbekistan’s competitive media industry a level playing field. Naturally, in-depth training on how to use the system also helps.
“I took part in the open training to improve my knowledge working with open data and data processing, interpretation and visualization,” Ms. Ruzieva adds.
“Having these government resources open to journalists opens up new opportunities, even in places where newsrooms don’t have the resources, or the will, to create large databases.”
There are still remaining hurdles to journalists like Ms. Ruzieva in accessing and the open data, especially in regional areas, as additional knowledge sharing and technology access is vital. The advances made so far, however, prove what can be achieved.