How can data amplify the impact of journalism? A conversation with Marvel Powerson
A spotlight interview with 2021 Data Fellow Marvel Powerson (Kenya cohort)
AP: Could you describe your background and past work experience, and what made you passionate about data journalism?
MP: I have been very passionate about women’s rights and gender issues for a long time. I’ve worked in radio and print, and I’m currently a communications consultant and freelance journalist. I am also an actress and social media manager for a campaign on renewable energy.
I like to work on issues of women’s empowerment, which cut across many different sectors. For instance, my current work in energy focuses on women, and as we know, climate change and energy issues affect women and girls very differently than they affect men and boys. The data angle came in because I like to tell stories with numbers. What is not counted is not accounted for. And I like the clarity in numbers and that data-based decisions are made with specific expected outcomes.
AP: Do you find that basing your stories on data makes them more convincing to a larger general audience?
MP: I believe so. For instance, in Kenya, there are many disputes over borders and cattle and in the process, women are often assaulted. Having specific numbers of women who experience these injustices personalizes the issue. Without numbers, people assume that it’s something they can brush off, and they become desensitized to these injustices. Journalists do their best to emphasize that even one death or assault is one too many to prevent people from succumbing to this desensitization.
AP: In the same vein, when you incorporate data visualizations into your stories, are they useful for your audience?
MP: I’m finding that organizations like to use numbers, but we use data that is so technical that readers cannot actually understand it. Our typical audience is people in government who are making policies, and many of them do not understand complex graphs. The most useful graphs are the ones that do not have too much detail and just break a point down by gender to show the disparities. The common person who is making decisions is not a statistician or data person. One of the things that needs to change is education and increasing skills for reading statistics and data, but in the meantime, we need to create graphics that are digestible and understandable for someone who is not well-versed in data.
Marvel Powerson is a communications consultant and actress living and working in Kenya. She has been a radio producer and presenter for an international radio station. Additionally, her journey in communications has seen her engage in resource mobilization and public relations fields. She writes about women’s empowerment and gender equality. She likes to enable the voice of women and girls who otherwise are not be heard on issues by critical policy makers and legislators. Her articles speak truth to power, be it in the development world or government. To this end, she has received story grants to write in area of specialization from the Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK). She is an active member of The African Women’s Development Communications Network, FEMNET and Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG). She has also acted in short movies and TV series in Kenya.