In Mongolia, a VCU professor emeritus teaches data journalism – VCU News
Jeff Southassociate professor emeritus who retired from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2020, is a Fulbright scholar in Mongolia, where he trains journalists in data journalism and fact-checking.
South, who taught journalism for 23 years as a faculty member at Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Scienceswill spend six weeks working with the Nest Center for Journalism Innovation and Developmenta non-profit organization that seeks to improve journalism and media literacy in Mongolia.
More than 200 journalists from across the Central Asian country registered for the South three day workshops on how to find, analyze and visualize data and integrate it into news stories.
“Data journalism is no substitute for ‘leather’ reporting – going to public meetings or protests, interviewing government officials, skimming through documents for newsworthy information, and talking to everyday people” , said South. “But data journalism can complement traditional journalistic practices. Journalists can use their data analysis to support or challenge the narrative that officials present, for example, and to uncover otherwise untold stories. Additionally, data visualizations are an effective, even fun way to present complex numerical information.
As an extension of the workshops, South helps build teams of journalists to work on data-driven reporting, exploring possible topics such as corruption, air pollution and mining operations.
“I will work with each group on data and other reports and help translate their stories into English,” he said. “We hope to publish the articles on US or international news platforms.”
South will also work with the Mongolian Fact-Checking Centerwhich was created by the Nest Center to combat misinformation and disinformation online and in the media.
“I will share my tips on how to establish the provenance and veracity of social media posts, photos and other online information and how to investigate sketchy digital websites and accounts,” did he declare. “Nestled between Russia and China, Mongolia is bombarded with propaganda and conspiracy theories (like the false claim that the United States had biolabs in Ukraine). I hope to help the Mongolian Fact-Checking Center do an even better job of separating fact from fiction.
Mongolia, a country of about 3 million people spread over an area the size of Alaska, has a media system of about 500 print, online and broadcast outlets.
“It opened our eyes to a robust, free-wheeling media system — very different from the government-controlled systems in China and Russia, the countries that surround Mongolia,” South said. “liberty house and Reporters Without Borders, two groups that monitor press freedom around the world, both consider Mongolian media to be free and pluralistic. Journalists here are not imprisoned or killed for their reporting, as they are in some countries. Much of the journalism I’ve seen in Mongolia is top notch – gripping, hard-hitting stories that shine a light on society and strive for truth and accuracy.
At the same time, however, the media in Mongolia faces challenges. Many small news outlets are spokespersons for commercial or political interests, many news outlets struggle to survive financially, and journalists face low salaries and heavy workloads. Yet, South said, there is a vibrant community of journalists and editors determined to speak truth to power.
He added that Mongolia has a high literacy rate, over 99%.
“Mongolia is a society that greatly respects reading, learning and print,” he said. “Last weekend there was a book festival in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of the country, where I live. Publishers were invited to set up tents to display, promote and sell their books. In this country of 3 million people, there were hundreds of tents erected in the city’s main square, with everything from textbooks and comics to serious fiction and non-fiction, novels for young adults and coffee table photography books.
The South project, which will end on June 23, is funded by the Fulbright Specialist Program, a program of the United States Department of State which sends approximately 400 American academics and professionals established in other countries to share their expertise. In 2014, South served as Fulbright Scholar teaches at a university in China.
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