10 African news innovations with serious potential


If you’ve been following the Knight News Challenge, the US headquartered Knight Foundation’s multi-million dollar initiative that rewards innovation in the news media industry, you’ll find the African News Innovation Challenge (ANIC) equally compelling.

With ANIC’s maiden voyage this year, it became Africa’s largest fund for supporting digital news startups and encouraging new media experimentation. The challenge will award prizes totalling US$1 million to startups that create innovative solutions in fields such as “data driven journalism, investigative reporting, newsroom management, audience engagement, digital convergence, and media business models.”

ANIC is headed by the African Media Initiative (AMI), the continent’s largest umbrella association of African media owners, executives and industry stakeholders and includes judges from the organisation itself as well as from the Knight Foundation, Google, Mozilla and the World Bank Institute.

With seed capital in the form of grants ranging from US$12 500 to US$100 000, interest has been high, with close to 400 entries recorded when the submission deadline was reached on Tuesday this week. Finalists will be announced on the 10th of August and the winners on the 10th of November.

In the meanwhile we’ve selected 10 innovative ideas to keep an eye on.

Green Hornet – tools to protect journalistic sources & whistleblowers

Through collaboration with Tor via its global media engagement programme and the Al Jazeera Transparency Network, South African entrant AfriDocs will create a user-friendly toolkit for African journalists and whistleblowers — often threatened by governments and criminal organizations — to communicate more safely online.

A similar project was announced as one of the winners of the “Networks” leg of the Knight News Challenge.

Kituino – Spreading news with Arduino in the Water Kiosks

A team from Kenya and Italy consisting of Koinonia, QQO and Cremit want to fight illteracy in Kenya by building Arduino based text-to-speech synthesisers that will read RSS feeds from News from Africa.

The units will be called Kituino and placed at water kiosks — popular gathering places — that fulfill water needs in the absence of household plumbing.

Newzik – Songs that Follow the Beat of African News

US based Hip Hop show host Jackson Mvunganyi (originally from Rwanda) and multimedia journalist Ricci Shryock want to team up with local African musicians to create a weekly “news” song delivered by MMS to convey the news in an educational and entertaining way.

The duo would also like to do a kickoff concert tour to promote the new product and gather local feedback. The project will encourage interactivity by allowing listeners to use their mobile phones to suggest news topics and themes.

A Computer Keyboard for Ghanaian (KWA) languages

Local languages in Ghana and neighboring countries that form the KWA language group cannot be written on computers because there is no computer keyboard and software for these languages — glyphs do exist for majority of the characters but they are scattered in different fonts.

A team of four will develop the software and keyboard format needed for text entry.


This is my second favourite entry. Circle will allow groups to form around breaking stories. If you’re the first to read a story online you can click a share button — think StumbleUpon — to start a group called a “Circle”. When someone else reads that story, they’ll be able to see that a Circle exists which they can then join.

Members of the circle will be encouraged to share and invite their friends to join the circle. Circle is great because it rallies like-minded individuals around a cause and allows media organisation to reach more people faster.

The project is lead by two journalists Temie Giwa and Kola Tubosun.

Code4Democracy – liberating public data to strengthen African watchdog media

This is my favourite idea, I would love see this come to pass. Very simply the idea is to embed coders into newsrooms. Already established projects such as Code For America saw civic developers make a difference to their local municipalities. Code4Democracy is taking the same idea and applying it to South African newsrooms.

Civic developers will be dropped into newsrooms for between three and six months each to help create solutions which could include projects based around data-driven journalism and digital engagement with audiences.

Code4Democracy will also establish a “central SWAT team” of specialists to support the embedded developers and create a central repository for solutions born in newsrooms.

In a conflict situation, you fly in the troops. If there’s a need for disruption in the news industry, send in the civic developers.

The project is being led by Gregory Solik.

Vipicha – The Infographic Project

I believe the thinking behind infographics are: if pictures are worth a thousand words, pictures with words are worth a lot more. Whether that’s accurate or not, a good infographic can go a long way conveying information in a fun way.

Analyst and data collector Dennis Kioko Mbuvi wants to partner up with graphic designers and developers to create infographics based on data collected around news events.

moJO – keeping media honest by monitoring online journalism

The South African project lead by journalism observator, Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) aims to create a toolkit based on existing solutions to “keep the media honest & help improve media professionalism.”

The existing solutions includes an article version logger NewsDiffs, PR piece detector Churnalism and fact checker MediaBugs. These tools currently used in isolation, will be pooled into a unified and integrated platform of interoperable components, with user manuals and documentation.

Journalism & Digital Skills Training Programme for 8 – 13 Year Old Children

The Digital Skills Center in Uganda wants to start a digital training center in Kampala, Uganda to equip children aged between 8 and 13 years with digital and journalism skills. The initiative aims to incubate future journalists through a vocational approach.

Africa Investigated

US citizens can report crimes by texting 911. A group of investigative journalists called the Forum for African Investigative Reporters (FAIR) wants to take it a step further.

With mobile taking off in Africa — the latest figure by GSM puts the number of mobile phones in Africa at 650 million — the group would like to create a service for communities in Africa to report social injustices via text messages, for investigation and publication by media. It’s a crime reporting and lead generation service in one.

*Thanks to the Geeklist and Jason Norwood Young from 10Layer for sharing his opinion on the top entries. Picture courtesy of ANIC.



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