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Introducing Computational Journalism In Pakistan

Stanford university has a computational journalism lab where journalists, academics and computer scientists work together to learn computational methods that can be used in public affair journalism. It is not just about using a browser on a computer to find any information for a story. Computational journalism is about use of the tools including research related softwares and algorithms and much more to discover, tell or distribute stories.

Computational journalism is a relatively new term. It was introduced in 2006 when a professor named Irfan Essa taught a course about it at Georgia institute of technology.

Still a new field in journalism for the western world, computational journalism will take probably decades to come to Pakistan. However, Global Neighbourhood for Media Innovations (GNMI) is trying to introduce the concept to journalists in Pakistan through its workshops and training sessions. GNMI is a not for profit organisation that works for media development in Pakistan.

Recently, GNMI organized a workshop on computational journalism that was led by senior journalist and media trainer Aoun Abbas Sahi.

Sahi is Islamabad based award winning journalist, researcher, and media trainer. He works as special correspondent with the Los Angeles Times. He is recipient of a shared Pulitzer Prize that was awarded to LA Times staff for their coverage of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

Talking about the story Sahi said that he did investigation on the background of the attackers. He collected the data and gave it to his team at Los Angeles times who used additional material and computational journalism techniques to develop stories that led them winning pulitzer prize as a team. Sahe later went there to learn basic aspects of this new field. He is now working with GNMI to transfer his knowledge to the younger generation of journalists.

Sahi says computational journalism can help to uncover stories of accountability that otherwise go untold. He also says that implementing computational journalism practices in newsroom would   cut the cost of news making process. He says it will also allow journalists to tell their stories in more personalised and engaging ways.

The only problem is investment into it which he thinks media owners are not ready to make. Another issue would be of human resource. The desks working on computational journalism would require expertise of not only journalists but also of computer scientists and researchers who can work together to produce impactful stories.

Najia Ashar, founder and executive director of GNMI, while talking about the new workshop, said that it was the requirement of time. The pandemic had restricted journalists to their desks at their homes which ultimately limited their access to fact checking procedures. Ashar believes computational journalism will help journalists develop programs and tools that will make fact checking procedure easier and accessible for them.

“Computational journalism is quite common now in developed countries. The big media giants there have desks of computational journalism. Also, there are institutions that provide  trainings in this domain. We thought of bringing this to Pakistan,” she added.

Umaima Ahmed who was one of the participants said that the workshop helped her understand the importance of numbers in a story and their impact on the research. However, she also believes that newsroom in Pakistani media are not capable of supporting this new form of journalism.

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Naya Daur