Many think of this as nothing more than statistics and numbers, but canny journalists know that it can tell a story as well.
Patti DiVincenzo and Francisco Vara-Orta support this perspective at EIJ19, relaying the importance that data storytelling plays in all forms of journalism.
DiVincenzo, the training director for the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), has worked in news stations all over the country, including sixteen years as an investigative producer and data specialist in Atlanta.
Vara-Orta, an IRE trainer, has eighteen years of experience in several print and online newsrooms, including the Los Angeles Times, Austin Business Journal and more. In his career before investigative journalism, Vara-Orta occasionally found himself hitting a wall in a story.
“After reporting on crime and education and health care, I really felt like I couldn’t break through this wall of are they anomalies or is there a trend here,” Vara-Orta said.
Incorporating storytelling and data analysis brings context for breaking news. Not only can it explain the severity of an incident, it can back up the reoccurring issues with factual evidence and draw attention to large scale problems.
The first test of data is its accuracy.
Most data journalists collect their own information and fact check. This could make readers suspicious of bias. However, journalists can increase credibility with data from nonpartisan agencies or organizations.
“It’s a bulletproofing way to do your journalism,” Vara-Orta said.
After journalists have clean, accurate data, they need to think about a successful delivery. Good data is useless unless the audience sees and understands it.
“Any graphic you use must explain the topic with context and be understood by the audience,” DiVincenzo said. “The most complicated things do not get the point across sometimes.”
Vara-Orta agreed and advised to “keep it simple. Audiences need to get the most information out of it as quickly as possible.”
While all of these factors are the root of data journalism, the stories are not just statistics and numbers. They relate to humans and their everyday life—drawing the connection to emotion and data both will have a powerful impact.
DiVincenzo emphasized that the craft of data journalism gives a bigger picture.
“You get perspective and context,” she said. “If you give an audience enough context, they will understand the message.”
The more humanity journalists bring to their numbers, the more difficult it is for the audience to ignore the story and allow the status quo.