Google plans in Africa ((AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
For media, the world has changed rapidly and dramatically. Daily, we hear about journalists’ frustrations with shrinking newsrooms, increased juniorisation as the onslaught of online hits print newsrooms even harder, and the lack of time or skills to transform those newsrooms into digital journalism hubs so that the press can survive and thrive in the digital era.

Thanks to technology, the 24-hour news cycle has become an instant news cycle. Traditional publishers are often struggling to compete with their digital counterparts, and both face the challenge of social platforms that enable everyone with an internet connection to serve as a kind of reporter on scene to post live news, as it breaks, anywhere in the world, using nothing more complicated than a mobile phone.

Preserving an independent press is, however, critical for our societies, and it does not serve anyone for that press to be drowned out under a deluge of social media content and fake news.

Remained uninformed

If not for the independent press, the biggest stories of the last 100 years - from Watergate to #Guptaleaks - would have remained untold. Without an independent press we would be uninformed over what is happening in war zones, boardrooms, farms and towns, from our biggest cities to sparsely populated islands.

Indeed, advances in digital technology have presented journalists with compelling opportunities to tell stories in new, interactive and engaging ways.

But learning how to use these digital tools can be daunting - especially for journalists in Africa, where robust digital integration in news and storytelling remains a challenge.

Across the continent, few journalism institutions offer training programmes in digital tools and news organisations lack the capability to leverage new digital technologies in their reporting.

To that end, the Google News Lab is announcing its support for an Africa-wide Digital Journalism initiative that aims to help journalists, newsrooms and editors better understand and utilise Google’s tools and the web to be able to tell better stories.

Working in partnership with the World Bank and Code for Africa, Google aims to train 6000 journalists in 12 major African cities - Abuja, Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, Casablanca, Dakar, Freetown, Dar es Salaam, Kampala, and Yaounde - between now and February 2018.

The training sessions will focus on developing skills such as mobile reporting, mapping, data visualisation, data verification, new forms of storytelling, and online fact checking.

Training will take place face-to-face in three newsrooms in each city, starting now. Training sessions will be held twice a month for the duration of the initiative.

This will be supported by a massive open on-line course, which will be made freely available on-line from the beginning of August. The on-line course will cover a range of web concepts and practices for digital journalists.

ALSO READ: Google Skills programme in Africa

Study group meet-ups

We are also holding monthly study group meet-ups in collaboration with Hacks/Hackers Africa to provide more focused in-person instruction. Monthly meetings will take place in Cameroon, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

In April 2016, Google announced its commitment to train 1million young Africans in digital skills within 12 months to help them create and find jobs via the web. This goal was achieved a month early, in March 2017, and Google has extended the programme this year.

With the Digital Journalism initiative, we want to contribute to the growth of Africa’s news and media ecosystem - training present and future practitioners on how to employ existing tools to tell stories, and supporting them to create locally-relevant tools that will reshape how Africans consume news.

Google believes that preserving a robust and independent press is important for our society and when excellent journalism succeeds, we all do better.

This is why we help journalists to use technology for reporting and act as a collaborator and convener to listen and learn from those in the industry.

Daniel Sieberg is head of Training & Development, Google News Lab.