Data Journalism: It’s About Sharing Stories That Matter
Using visuals to break through the clutter
The amount of visual elements in the media is progressively increasing in order to communicate news in a more appealing way. Both print and online media often include infographics, videos, or other images to explain number-heavy events and information in a simpler way.
The news world is cluttered. Only the most appealing and relevant presentations will succeed in catching the reader’s attention. Maybe it’s because of our decreasing attention spans, or perhaps the main reason is that people are on average busier and therefore have less time to shift through the endless amount of resources available.
Nevertheless, there are many journalists that still think that these graphics are meant to simply “accompany” the article – that their primary purpose is to illustrate an idea or maybe provide a bit of additional information. But this approach is no longer valid. Any news article, feature story or blog post must coexist with other visuals that are attractive and understandable to the readers, specially when communicating complex and extensive data – it should tell a story.
This approach has been called Data Journalism and is something not only journalists should adapt to, but also PR agencies and communicators, in order to provide compelling content solutions for our audience.
According To Wikipedia, it was the programmer Adrian Holovaty who wrote what is now considered as the manifesto of data journalism with his post, “A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change” (September 2006).
Holovaty said that capturing the audience’s attention required a change in the media. The media should produce, aside from the traditional articles, useful, data-based information in a format that could be easily interpreted by readers. With this, the reporter may be able to infer conclusions, relate back to the data or showcase information in a more appealing way.
As noted in The Data Journalism Handbook, business intelligence tools are now becoming available for other domains, including for the media. These are, for example, visualization tools or the “Big Data” movement based on software packages that can dig through piles of data, extracting insights in milliseconds. This offers additional options for content creators:
- Using programming to automate the process of gathering and combining information (curation)
- Using software to find connections between huge amounts of documents
- Creating infographics to explain a complex story
Some of my favorite examples of data journalism in action:
- Guardian Data Blog
- World poverty: Gapminder
- Evolution of the web: http://evolutionofweb.appspot.com/
- ProPublica’s Tools & Data
- Where do my taxes go? (Spain)
Data journalism is a response to the strong demand for relevant information by citizens that require companies to be more honest especially in light of recent crises. In this regard, data journalism makes it possible to leverage large amounts of data, for example, from public entities that are now accessible due to transparency laws.
Therefore, learning how to makes queries in databases and displaying the data and its conclusions using software tools and visualization programs are necessary skills for journalists at this point. I also believe that PR agencies can adopt a data journalism-based approach to help clients gain visibility among the media and in social networks. Sure, not all of our projects will be as ambitious as the ones carried out in media like The Guardian – a pioneer in the data journalism space – but it’s worth considering what relevant data that we can obtain from our clients and from their respective markets and how we can share that in a visual way or draw conclusions.
At Text100 Spain we have done several projects that touch on the concept of data journalism:
- PayPal - Launched on Internet Day, this project showcased the history of money and the creation of e-commerce, with PayPal as the leading online payment method.
- Xerox Spain – Launched on Earth Day, we helped create an infographic to showcase data and goals for ways to help the planet: http://www.flickr.com/photos/xeroxcomunicacion/7090159307/in/photostream
Interested in exploring how your brand might be able to utilize data journalism? Contact our Design Services hub.