Whether it’s global warming, elections, road accidents, strikes, or Premier League predictions, newsrooms have used facts, numbers and statistics to support their stories since the printing press was invented. Many of our clients come to us with a series of marketing needs which essentially revolve around the question: “what is content?” Data lends credibility to any claim underpinning content marketing strategy and broader commercial messaging, which might explain why it’s spreading from the newsroom to other industries.
Data journalism is a process that involves uncovering and producing news with a heavy focus on data analysis and data visualisation. According to the Data Journalism Handbook, data can be the source of data journalism, or it can be the tool with which the story is told – or it can be both. Data journalism can help a journalist tell a complex story using engaging infographics. Or it can help explain how a story relates to an individual.
As long as there’s been data, there’s been data journalism. In 1952, computer-assisted reporting was used by US TV channel CBS to predict the presidential election results.
In the 1960s, Detroit journalist Philip Meyer used this system to show that it was not just less-educated Southerners who were participating in the 1967 riots in Detroit.
The Guardian published its first attempt at data journalism on May 5, 1821. This consisted of a large table listing schools in Manchester and Salford. It documented how many pupils attended each one and the average annual spending. Using this data, the Guardian calculated the number of pupils receiving free education and the number of poor children living in the city.
Since then, the Guardian has continued to explore data, producing excellent examples since its data blog began in 2009. After Edward Snowden leaked the NSA files, the Guardian produced some outstanding content to help people understand the implications of the leak. Video interviews, timelines, documents, and interactive infographics helped readers understand what the story might mean to them.
The Irish Times too has been dipping its toe into data journalism, marking a big shift in the way news is reported. For years, journalists prided themselves on being at the scene and reporting news first-hand. But as the internet took hold, video and social media became widely used. Journalists began to explore different ways of telling stories, and found data journalism added context and depth to news.
The introduction of water charges in 2015 caused much controversy in Ireland. As the Government attempted to persuade householders to pay up, the Irish Times decided to take a look at European water charges. The newspaper produced visuals showing that Irish water charges were the cheapest in Europe.
An article on road deaths included interactive maps and graphs, explaining their conclusion that road fatalities tend to be higher in counties with a lower rate of penalty points.
In May 2015, Ireland voted in favour of same-sex marriages. In the run-up to that election, The Irish Times produced an interactive timeline of gay rights in Ireland from 1981 to May 2015. It also produced an interactive timeline that explored same-sex marriage internationally.
The Irish Times is an example of a newspaper using data effectively to explain the implications of news stories to its readers.
The New York Times, too, launched a site dedicated to data-driven reporting. ‘The Upshot’ was the name given to its data-driven venture, focusing on politics, policy and economic analysis. The Euros 2016 tournament was one of the big sporting events this year. The Upshot produced a number of features around this, such as ‘Euro 2016: How Spain Can Qualify for the Next Round’. This featured interactive tables that broke down match outcomes, match predictions and what the teams need to do to secure their place in the next round.
Another popular piece produced by The Upshot is an interactive feature predicting the outcome of the US Presidential election, ‘Who Will Be President?’ It features interactive charts showing each candidate’s popularity, the states where the race has shifted, which outcomes are most likely and the many paths to the White House.
The role of data journalists shouldn’t be confined to newsrooms. Given that content marketing has become so powerful, data journalism could and should be a key part of it. A data journalist creates content that sheds light on facts, trends and trivia. This is the type of content that readers crave.
Data journalists present content in an appealing and interactive way. All the examples mentioned above feature interactive elements. Why? Because interactivity makes the content engaging. It serves as a personal learning tool for readers when they can click on, and scroll across different sections, and have the information they want to read pop up.
Data journalists know how to use visuals to tell a story. In fact, they know how to let visuals tell a story. Let’s say we read a news piece that says a thousand people have been killed in road accidents over the past year. Despite the shocking figure, it lacks impact. Data journalists discard the words and present the information in the form of a thousand figures, each representing a person killed on the road. That’s a powerful and moving way to present the same information.
Another example of data visualisation packing a punch was a report on heroin use from NJ.com. The gist of the report is that 5,217 people have died of a heroin overdose in the US state of New Jersey since 2004. Instead of a 500-word news report, the journalist produced a data report consisting of 5,217 tombstones with the name, age and location of each person who died, giving the reader a sense of the real people behind the statistics.
Data journalism can easily incorporated into your content marketing using the following resources:
For Data Research:
For Data Visualisation:
There’s so much data available, which means endless opportunities for creative, powerful content that opens the reader’s eyes to interesting trends and facts.
– This post was written by Emma Vince – former Digital PR Lead at Tinderpoint.