The 2012 edition of Highway Africa will kick off with South Africa’s first data journalism boot camp for journalists.

The intensive three-day workshop will be launched at Rhodes University,  four days before the start of the Highway Africa conference between 5 and 7 September.

The event will offer 30 journalists and 30 coders free training and the opportunity to work together in building news driven mobile applications (apps). Participants will also get the chance to develop civic engagement websites using limited resources. The best project from the workshop will be awarded $1000 (R8300) seed money to build a fully functional prototype.

The boot camp will be led by experienced trainers from Google, the Open Institute and the Open Knowledge Foundation. The workshop is also supported by the World Bank Institute, rDNA, the African Media Initiative, the International Centre for Journalists and the Rhodes University School of Journalism and Media Studies.

Director of the Centre for Economics Journalism in Africa, Reg Rumney said democracy needed informed citizens in order for it to work.

“Transparency is essential for combatting corruption and making governments accountable,” Rumney said.  “We have all this data out there but data is not knowledge. You need people that will covert data into useful information. I think the workshop will teach journalists the skill of processing raw data into useable information.”

In recent months, central and local governments around the world have opened data and enabled free access to the public. While this has resulted in intense excitement from civil society organisations, much of the public has been left behind. Data Journalism enables journalists to develop such data into useable information for ordinary people.

Success stories include utility news sites and information apps such as Where did my tax dollars go?, the Lord’s Resistance Army Crisis Tracker and the Country Sin Rankings.

“Highway Africa and the consortium behind the data journalism boot camp hope to expand the project into a long-term training programme for South African and African media professionals.”