It is no hidden fact that Peshawar’s journalists are some of the bravest, most dedicated news people in Pakistan. They have witnessed firsthand and up-close the horrors of terrorism their city has experienced over the past 15 years. Almost every journalist in Peshawar has a personal story about suicide bombings, explosions, and shootings. None of these tragic events, however, have made them stop reporting. Rather Peshawar’s journalists tend to be more interested in showing truth to power through their professional work. And at the heart of their community is the Peshawar press club, housed in an unassuming two-storey building which itself is no stranger to terrorism – in 2009, a suicide bomber detonated just inside the press club’s front gate and killed four people.
The Peshawar press club was the venue for our second training in the series of data journalism trainings we are conducting all over the country for our project. Our Peshawar participants were all reporters from different mainstream news organizations and among the 10 of them they covered almost every important beat from politics to economy and education.
Interestingly, several of the participants had attended trainings on data journalism and digital news in the past. However, most of them complained that they were unable to use the skills they had been told about in their daily reporting work. This complaint was right up our alley as we had expected to encounter such questions during the trainings. We spoke with the journalists about news planning, how to manage deadline stories with longer projects that need more time and work, and ways to follow-up on issues they have already reported. In the end, the participants were able to see the sense in pacing oneself as a reporter. It remains to be seen how well they would be pull it off, if at all, but hey, we journalists don’t shy away from a challenge, do we?
The Peshawar group was probably the most aware group regarding the right to information we would find in our training series. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has one of the best access to information law in the country and its provincial government, located in Peshawar, has done well to raise awareness about the law by supporting the information commission. Almost all the participants had used the law previously. Some spoke of its convenience and utility; Others had nightmares to share such as one participant who said he had to follow up for eight months on a request he filed to get some response from a government agency. However, the good thing was that none of them said the law was useless. In fact, they believed that if journalists use the law more, it would help raise the law’s profile in the public eye as well. This is just the kind of energy we were hoping to see in our training participants. The participants wrote almost a dozen information requests during the training, all of which have great potential for news reports in the public interest.
Our data analysis sessions were fruitful albeit slow. The venue was not the best technologically-speaking and we had to struggle with setting up the computers and getting the Internet to work. But most importantly, the participants followed the training instructions with rapt attention and were able to replicate the results of the data analysis on their computers. By the time we got to the sessions on data visualization, the participants were already feeling confident to work with other data sets of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government data we had shared with them.
Our next stop on the trainings trail is Lahore. We have received some promising applications so far and we will be on the road early next week as the training commences from Tuesday. So far, our two trainings have exceeded our expectations. Let’s see what Lahore has in store for us.