For the Data Journalism assignment, I put my search for Luckiest Town in Massachusetts on hold and trained my sights on a more interesting story:

For weeks, the only Trayvon Martin coverage I saw was on Twitter, where every progressive I knew had shared a link to the petition. Eventually, I saw more media attention around the story. This led me to form a hypothesis that people talking about the story online, and specifically, linking to the petition, kept the story alive long enough for the national media to pick up on it.

I looked into all of the data I could find, including some provided by, and found out that my hypothesis was incorrect. But the story of how Trayvon Martin became national news, weeks after his death, is still a revealing portrait of our media.

Five Tech Ideas for Explanatory Journalism

How can technology help journalists make sense of complex issues and explain them to the public in a clear, understandable manner?

Last year, Jay Rosen’s journalism students spent an entire semester researching and making explanations in partnership with ProPublica, a non-profit newsroom which focuses on investigative journalism. The class did amazing work to highlight notable examples and develop their own explainers.

I kept my eyes open for parts of the process which technology could improve. Here are my top tech recommendations for supporting beter explainers.

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Violence in northern Ghana

Citizens of Ghana are being axed savagely and monies we need for development are going down the drain. If we allow things to get out of hand then we are holding the whole of Ghana to ransom. The entire nation could be engulfed and we will no longer be able to show the outside world a positive image. – ex-President John Kufuor

The Bawku conflict has shamed, defamed and disgraced all of us. Our municipality has become notorious for persistent ethnic conflicts. You know only too well that it is a shame and disgrace for one to identify him or herself as coming from Bawku- John Agobre, local politician

The Bawku community in Ghana’s Upper East region represents many things not usually associated with the West African country. Bawku mirrors the flipside of Ghana as a peaceful state. The contrast is stark. In the last ten years, estimates are that at least four thousand people, young and old, have been killed due to ethnic and political differences while twice that number has migrated to other parts of the country or across the border to Togo.

Bawku, a predominantly Muslim community in northeastern Ghana, has an estimated population of 72,000 most of whom are either from the Kusasi or Manprusi ethnic groups, the two ethnic group constantly at each other’s throat.

The conflict in Bawku tends to escalate election year and this year is no exemption. In the last 12 months, there have been several reports of attacks by the rival groups.
A week before President John Atta Mills was sworn into office in January 2009, 127 houses and stores were either completely or partially burnt, while five cars were set ablaze in a major clash. Local media reports put the death toll at about 30 people while about 25 others sustained varying degrees of injuries.
During the presidential elections in 2000, more than a hundred people were killed there in a matter of days. With less than eight months to this year’s presidential elections, tensions are already mounting in the municipality again.

The feud in Bawku
The violence in Bawku plays out in various forms ranging from tussle over chieftaincies to party politics, fight over land, markets and names of places. John Kufuor, Ghana’s former immediate past president, tried to reconcile the Kusasis and Mamprusis, the two ethnic groups at the centre of the Bawku crisis, but he wasn’t quite successful. Incumbent president, John Atta Mills, is doing same, but so far, there’s been little success.

It is political
Some researchers and local journalists say the crisis in Bawku is mainly political. It echoes the sharp divide between the two main political parties in the country namely NDC and NPP. Instead of a genuine commitment to resolving the feud, both parties have always tried to take advantage of it for political gains.
Christian Lund, a researcher who has written on the Bawku crisis, says the crisis presents a double argument. According to him, while communal conflict challenge the state and expose its incapacity, the conflicts at the same time invoke a powerful idea of the state as the most significant institution to qualify claims as rights or discard them as illegitimate.

It is environmental
A school of thought blames the crisis in Bawku on the impact of climate change on the living conditions of the people. George Abugri, a popular blogger and columnist with Daily Graphic, Ghana’s leading daily, holds that view. “Bawku”, he noted in a recent article, “has gallantly absorbed the environmentally devastating impact of the advancing Sahel. Now the ecology can barely support agricultural production. Smuggling, an alternative illegitimate commercial activity which made some locals rich, is no longer lucrative.”

Poverty and underdevelopment
Those who point to poverty as the root cause of the conflict in Bawku, liken the situation there to the Boko Haram uprising in Nigeria’s north. When people are poor, they are easy to be manipulated by politicians.
Abugri who proudly identifies himself as ‘the man from Bawku’, used history to justify the argument about economics. “At the peak of its commercial boom, Bawku was one of the government’s highest sources of local council revenue. The commercial bustle within the town was surrounded by vigorous farming activity. There was a time when long caravans of push carts transported sugar cane from my village of Zawse to the Bawku market on market days.
From a valley at the foot of the Agolle Hills at Zawse, also came cassava, sweet potatoes and fresh water crabs. That sounds like a fairy tale today, but it is true. As the years have gone by, Bawku has gallantly absorbed the environmentally devastating impact of the advancing Sahel. Now the ecology can barely support agricultural production.
Smuggling, an alternative illegitimate commercial activity which made some locals rich, is no longer lucrative. The net result? An increasingly impoverished population and a huge army of unemployed, despondent and secretly armed youth trapped in an over populated conflict area.”