Kini News Lab is a data journalism team established by Malaysiakini in 2018. Its projects visualise a range of topics in Malaysian current affairs, such as party elections; border disputes; treaty ratifications; the federal budget; and a high-profile corruption scandal.
The projects are interactive and mobile-friendly, and are meant to present potentially dry topics in a new and engaging format. It was hoped that the projects would help Malaysians better understand the issues involved, attract a broad audience, and separate Malaysiakini from its competitors.
A brief description of each project is as follows.
1. “On the trail of defectors post-GE14” is an ongoing project that monitors the evolving balance of power in Malaysia’s parliament since the 2018 general election, by keeping track of members of Parliament (MPs) who switch party allegiances.
2. “PKR Election 2018” tracked the results of the internal elections for the People’s Justice Party (PKR). PKR now holds the most seats in the lower house of Parliament, so its internal elections were watched closely by the nation. PKR has the longest elections amongst all Malaysian parties, lasting almost 2 months. It also has the largest internal voter base in the country. The weekly tracker was meant to help readers monitor trends and swings as the election progressed.
3. “Budget 2019 Interactive Apps” presented 3 interactive apps to help Malaysians understand the new federal budget. The apps comprise a visualised analysis of the budget; a personalised quiz to see what perks you would receive from the budget; and a poll on the budget’s key highlights. All apps were launched within hours of the budget being made public.
4. “The ICERD Outrage” aimed to fact-check claims of critics towards Malaysia’s possible ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). It was meant to debunk political rhetoric that ratifying ICERD would affect the special rights of the predominantly Malay-Muslim population in Malaysia, by providing an overview of which countries had ratified ICERD, including Muslim-majority ones.
5. “The Maritime Tug-of-War” explained the 23-year history behind Malaysia and Singapore’s dispute over their maritime borders. It was published in the wake of an incident in October 2018, when Malaysia expanded its port boundaries and triggered retaliatory action by Singapore.
6. “‘Stolen’ 1MDB funds” explained the civil forfeiture suits brought by the US Justice Department (DOJ) in a bid to recover funds allegedly siphoned from Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), in a corruption scandal involving then-premier Najib Abdul Razak.
7. “Nicked from 1MDB or donation?” visualised the transfer of money from Najib’s personal bank accounts to parties in his coalition. The US Justice Department claims Najib used funds misappropriated from 1MDB, while the latter claims it was a donation.
What makes this project innovative?
Kini News Lab is the first data journalism team of its kind in Malaysia. We have helped Malaysiakini become the first Malaysian newsroom to carry out projects that are data-driven, interactive and mobile-first. Additionally, our projects are notable for being available in three languages - Malay, Mandarin, and English - in order to reach as many Malaysians as possible. To explain what is innovative about each of our nominated projects: The trackers for MP defectors and PKR elections help the public keep tabs on drawn-out processes, namely party-switching after the general election, and lengthy party elections. The data is visualised in an interactive, organised, and attractive manner that is easy for laypeople to understand. In particular, the waffle chart for the defectors project is innovative as it keeps tabs on how close the new government is towards achieving a two-thirds majority in the Lower House, which will enable it to make constitutional amendments. Meanwhile, the two 1MDB-related projects help readers understand a highly complicated scheme with numerous individuals and organisations involved. This was achieved by visualising data from US Department of Justice lawsuits and Malaysian government reports. The ICERD and Malaysia-Singapore maritime border projects were created in response to two controversial issues involving claims from various parties. They were innovative for visualising historical and international data, which helped fact-check claims surrounding each issue. Lastly, we were the only Malaysian newsroom to offer personalised and interactive apps for the federal budget.
What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?
Our projects are timely and shed light on matters of public interest to Malaysians. “‘Stolen’ 1MDB funds: The DOJ lawsuit revisited” was published at a critical juncture, just before the Malaysian general election in 2018. Then-prime minister Najib Abdul Razak’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal, and Malaysiakini’s overall work in covering the issue along with a handful of foreign and independent media organisations, were later cited by many as a reason for his coalition’s unprecedented loss in the election. Several key persons, including Najib himself, have been charged in relation to the scandal since the change of government last year. Both of our 1MDB projects have been popular with readers. “‘Stolen 1MDB funds’” is the most-read story on Malaysiakini related to 1MDB between 2017 and March 2019, with “Nicked from 1MDB or donation” coming in second. The 1MDB projects also attract a much wider audience than Malaysiakini’s typical news reports, with 21.5% of the traffic for “‘Stolen’ 1MDB Funds’” coming from overseas. The foreign reach for Malaysiakini’s news reports is usually around 15% to 17%. Additionally, readers have left comments on our projects thanking us for helping them to understand issues better. “Nicked from 1MDB or donation?”, which traces the flow of money from ex-premier Najib’s accounts to parties in his coalition, has been described by readers as “comprehensive”, “meticulous” and “easy to understand”. Similar praise was given to our project on the Malaysia-Singapore maritime border conflict, with readers calling it a “good synopsis as to how things unfolded” and “very well-explained”. Our projects have also attracted a high level of engagement from the public. The interactive federal budget quiz went viral and was shared widely. It has received 21 times the average number of social clicks for our projects. In other words, the quiz has the highest amount of unique traffic from social media shares among all Kini News Lab projects. Meanwhile, the budget poll served as a springboard for public discussion of the 2019 federal budget, with readers debating the pros and cons of each new policy when we shared the poll results on social media. The projects also provide long-term value to Malaysiakini, as they have been programmed to show up as articles for further reading whenever a new related story is published. This is particularly helpful to readers when it comes to long-running issues such as the 1MDB scandal and the maritime border conflict, and is evidenced by spikes in page views for our projects whenever the issues resurface. The waffle chart and timeline for the MP defector project can also be embedded in related stories, providing further context for readers. The Malaysian journalism community has expressed interest in Kini News Lab’s work. We have been invited to speak about our projects at an innovation talk held by the Kuala Lumpur branch of Hacks/Hackers. We have also begun training journalists from other newsrooms in data journalism.
Source and methodology
There are currently five members of Kini News Lab - three journalists, one graphic designer and one web designer. Only one journalist works full-time on the team, while the four other team members have regular newsroom duties in addition to their Kini News Lab roles. We also work closely with other members of the Malaysiakini team to create our projects. These include other journalists, editors, translators, programmers, and social media editors. A more detailed explanation of our methodology for each project can be found here: https://sites.google.com/malaysiakini.com/kinimethodologies/home
Lee Long Hui, Nigel Aw, Sean Ho, Syariman Badrulzaman.