Islam Zween
CEO of Argaam

Data Journalism Enriches Saudi Media

In its latest polls, the Riyadh-based Saudi Center for Opinion Polling highlights a key element of data journalism: crowdsourcing. The Center sought to measure Saudi citizens’ opinions about their personal conditions and the state of the country five years after the implementation of Vision 2030 began.

To this end, the Center tasked a team of three experts with analyzing data collected through phone calls with a random sample of 2,822 Saudi citizens aged 18 and above. Cell phone coverage is available to approximately 96 percent of the Kingdom’s population.

The data analysis showed that 93 percent of individuals surveyed believe that the country is better off than it was five years ago, before the new national strategy was implemented. Some of the areas that Saudis believe have improved significantly include Saudi women’s employment (94 percent), the performance of state agencies (90 percent), and the quality of entertainment (89 percent).

Indeed, this is a small example that demonstrates how dynamic and significant data journalism has become in the Kingdom over the past few years. The level of transparency and professionalism of its methodology is on par with that seen in Western countries. This survey relies on numbers, and if you visit the Center's website, you can obtain more details about this particular data journalism initiative.

I can say this diligently designed project has collected extremely insightful and useful information. It is primarily text-based and lacks the visual appeal we typically find in graphs and other illustrations. This is one type of data journalism. It provides journalists with the crucial raw material they need to tell stories alongside computer graphic designers and others. The project allows for appealing journalistic work that is rich in graphic data and information, combining form and content.

Although this data journalism project involves minimal data collection and is presented in this way, its content is comprehensive. Indeed, it combines the journalistic ethics and professionalism required for high-quality data journalism. Its source is reliable, it is transparent about the context, the numbers are accurate, and its conceptualization is appealing.

The job of journalists who will subsequently work on presenting the information in an engaging manner is made easier by the accessibility of the data. Nonetheless, I am not belittling data journalists’ role in the newsroom. Why? Simply because it is their job to make use of this data to weave compelling stories, draw the public’s attention to it, and distinguish their work from that of competitors with access to the same data who present it in a traditional manner.

Data journalism in Saudi Arabia has come a long way indeed in recent years. Thus, the press has a duty to convey and reflect the changes underway in the country. One interesting real-life example is presented by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He has a distinct knack for making use of persuasive data and indisputable analysis to make his point to the audience, as can be seen in most of his briefings and meetings with international dignitaries.

In this context, the Kingdom will host, under the patronage of the Crown Prince, a crucial artificial intelligence and data summit organized by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) next September. The summit will be attended by ministers, CEOs, and data experts from around the world.

Various newsrooms in the Kingdom have embraced data journalism as part of their efforts to develop a new media culture. The impact of its adoption by various Saudi media outlets has been significant. Indeed, Saudi media is presenting this data in attractive designs that cannot be found in traditional press reports, as can be seen in the recent digital launch of the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

From my personal experience managing several teams in different countries, I know that telling stories or developing themes through data and statistics demands a lot of money, time, and a talented team of journalists and Big Data experts. Nonetheless, the result is worth the effort, as presenting fact and statistic-based journalism in an interactive format contributes to building an informed society.

Data journalism in the Kingdom was never on par with what we are seeing today. This excellence is particularly noticeable in the reports of well-trained and experienced economic journalists who consistently use, analyze, and present regularly updated data to the public.

Saudi media outlets have also impressed us with their appealing presentation of data and how they have integrated this data into their written reports. These efforts have boosted the visibility of their websites and pages, and it has increased engagement with their content.

Understanding and analyzing financial market data is another crucial skill for journalists. CEOs and entrepreneurs rely on their guidance and up-to-date information about the performance of companies that they are evaluating and looking to potentially invest in. In other words, factual data offered by reliable companies and news agencies allows investors to understand market trends, allowing them to rest assured that they are making informed decisions.

Today, we find that Saudi universities and institutes have recognized the importance of data journalism. Many offer courses and adequate training for aspiring data journalists and data scientists. Their objective is to equip a new generation of skilled Saudi youths with this essential journalistic tool for writing in-depth, engaging stories.