Data journalism is exactly what it sounds like, a story enhanced by data. It is about using a strong news instinct to identify a great story that can be told with the digital data and information that is now available to us.
If you’ve ever seen a graph or an infographic in a news story, then you have seen data journalism. The manner in which the data is actually broken down is crucial to the story’s success, as it needs to be digestible, and offer value to the reader. Visualising data effectively is therefore key.
Though data-driven content has been around a while, there has been an increase in the use of data journalism in recent years, particularly data that is displayed in charts and maps. This is mainly down to the fact that more and more data is becoming accessible to everyone. We’ve also seen a growth in the tools necessary to help interpret that data. PR professionals, marketers and the media can now look for data to create their stories from several different sources. Stories have more credibility when backed up with evidence or statistics.
Looking at the current environment and how the world of journalism is now driven by effectively processing and modelling data will help you figure out ways to sell your story. It’s all about effective processing and the ability to trigger information retention. As a PR professional, putting data journalism at the forefront of your pitch will help journalists get to the point of a story faster and more efficiently, which may make them more likely to pick it up and run with it.
Essentially, it’s always in your interest to make the data clear and easy to understand. The use of visual images, such as graphs, pictures and other techniques often enhance effective processing, so use them to your advantage.
Creating and using graphics when pitching to journalists will almost certainly boost your story’s success rate as long as the information is shown in a colourful, relatable way. Remember data can be used as the method through which a story is told (i.e. a graphic) or it can actually be the story itself. We should be making it easy for media and the audience to consume the data.
Including a graph in your content, or including the findings of a survey to support a story can count as data journalism, as well as whole stories constructed around a central data point. Essentially, anyone can report stories with data, you’ll just need some basic building blocks but you can soon be on your way to sourcing great stories through numbers.
So, how do you go about pulling together a story that incorporates data?
1. Finding data
Firstly, you have to find the data. It can be from multiple sources, an expert comment, a survey, freedom of information requests, sales figures, etc.. Being curious and investigating can help here. The data should interest you enough for you want to explore it for stories and interesting hooks. You should try and keep an open mind so that you don’t interpret the data in a preconceived way.
2. Organising the data and finding the story
Once you have your data, you need to get rid of any jargon, or duff stats, to gain a better understanding of it. You should always look at the wider context that the data sits in. The hard part of working with data is often organising or interpreting it in a usable format to enhance the story.
You then need to find the stories in it. This is the fun part, as you can often find insights you never expected but you still need to tell the story, as sometimes the data doesn’t speak for itself.
3. Visualising data
Turning large data into a relatable visual often requires a content journalist or PR to spend hours poring over spreadsheets to find the story. This is all before figuring out the best way to represent the information in a straightforward and easy to understand manner. It can involve a lot of trial and error while feeding figures into visualisation programs. Alternatively, many PR and marketing departments now have access to developers and designers who can make data look great.
Once you’ve explored your data and found your story, you can start making it engaging. Make sure you’re telling a story, or supporting a story with the visuals. Visualising and combining data is usually the responsibility of designers and coders but there are an increasing number of people with editorial backgrounds trying their hand at it too. It is now easier than ever to visualise data on a small budget, there are loads of free data visualisation tools available on the internet. See this blog for the top free visualisation tools.
Lastly, remember that your story is only as good as the visuals you use to tell it. The data is only a part of your story, and it is up to you to communicate its importance and relate it to relevant insights. For inspiration, I really enjoy looking through http://www.informationisbeautiful.net/
To help spark creativity and interest in data journalism, I’ve compiled a few examples to showcase the value data journalism can bring to a story.
Uber offers an open source version of the data visualisation framework it uses internally for exploring and visualising data assets at scale. It’s a really interesting and engaging way to interpret their data.
YouGov actually employs data journalists and frequently uses statistics to visualise the latest news and current affairs. This example shows the UK’s regional voting intentions, and shows the Tory tide rising across the country. For the full breakdown, visit – https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/05/15/voting-intention-regional-breakdown-apr-24-may-5/
Proving that not all data journalism has to be super serious, the BBC uses data to create interactive questionnaires to intrigue and engage audiences.
The BBC often looks to data made available by governments, international organisations, companies and other reputable sources to back up their news stories.
It’s not just national news organisations who have become adept at data journalism, local publications are investing in data journalism too. The San Francisco Chronicle used data to visualise Airbnb and its effect on local housing markets. You can see the story here – http://www.sfchronicle.com/airbnb-impact-san-francisco-2015/#1
Data journalism can also be interactive like a recent project Hallam Internet has done for Roof Maker. We’ve mapped out some of the most stunning glass work in a selection of the UK’s cities in an interactive map. From beautiful Victorian iron and glass roofs to magnificent modern glass structures, on this map you can find out information on the top glass roofs across the UK. You can find the interactive map here – https://roof-maker.co.uk/interactive-map/
If this blog post interested you and you’ve made it this far, then perhaps take a look at The Guardians 10 point guide to data journalism.
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