News24’s Out of Order index empowers South African voters

By Qama Qukula


Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa


Plagued by political infighting, service delivery setbacks, and protest action, News24 took a closer look at the state of municipalities across South Africa before the municipal elections in November 2021.

Once every five years, South Africans head to voting stations to vote in the municipal polls, where mayors and councils are elected to run small towns and big cities across the country.

Candidates make bold promises and the political parties they represent use catchy campaign slogans to woo voters. During the election cycle, it is the duty of news organisations to interrogate local governance and make fact-based assessments.

In the buildup to the municipal elections, News24, South Africa’s largest and most trusted digital news publication, took a fresh approach to its election coverage using reliable data to measure service delivery performance.

The Out of Order index rated municipalities on their performance to help voters make an informed decision.
The Out of Order index rated municipalities on their performance to help voters make an informed decision.

Funded by the non-profit organisation Truth First, News24 developed the data journalism project Out of Order as part of its commitment to building an informed citizenry.

How the index worked

The Out of Order project ranked more than 200 of South Africa’s municipal governments and their performance before the local elections in November 2021.

News24 gathered information from official data sources, such as National Treasury, Statistics South Africa, and the Auditor-General’s office, to create a dataset that formed the project’s foundation.

“It is an extremely valuable tool to help voters decide if their municipalities are worth trusting with their ballots,” said News24 Editor-in-Chief Adriaan Basson.

A team of developers and researchers, under the guidance of project lead Andrew Trench, created the interactive index that gave key municipalities a performance rating out of 100.

The tool used some 20 indicators, ranging from financial discipline and compliance to unemployment levels, poverty, and basic service delivery to households.

“We got a sense of what the frontline of service delivery looked like in South Africa during that time,” Trench explained.

The purpose of the project was to arm voters with useful knowledge that would shape how they vote. It helped educate users about key policy levers that impacted local government.

“The idea was to give users more tools in order to make their decisions,” said News24’s Data and Analytics Editor Kate Henry.

What the index found

The platform was launched two weeks before the election and was complimented by in-depth reporting and analysis on the News24 Web site.

In addition to the independent rankings, the tool also predicted that another 43 municipalities, which had not been previously identified by the national government, were in danger of collapse.

From October 18, 2021, to January 18, 2022, the platform garnered 119,011 page views, 89,065 unique browsers and saw an average time on page of two minutes 45 seconds.

The ranking attracted plenty of publicity and prompted responses from municipalities, political parties, and provincial government. It was also used by community media as an authoritative source for their own reporting.

The role of data-driven journalism

Media organisations can benefit from data-driven journalism projects, but they’re not always user-friendly or practically relevant to their readers, notes Basson.

“A lot of data journalism out there is not very useful, I find. It’s pretty and cool, but it’s not often very useful. It doesn’t really help the user, whereas, I thought this [project] actually helped our users to make informed decisions about their lives,” Basson said.

For Henry, the objective of data journalism is for journalists and news publications to distill information and tell a story.

“The power of data journalism is to take all those numbers that don’t look related or look too big, and to drill down into them and to see the patterns; see the story in it,” Henry explained. “That’s ultimately the job of journalism — to take an incredibly complex tool, piece of information or story and try to explain it to a reader, and to explain it visually is even better.”

About Qama Qukula

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.