Data journalism is reporting a factual story that is enhanced by data. It is about using news instinct to identify a strong angle, then presenting it as an engaging story.
If you’ve ever seen an interactive graph or an infographic in online media, then you have seen and consumed data journalism. How the data is actually broken down is vital to the story’s success, as it needs to be digestible, visually appealing, and offer value to the reader.
One of my favourite places to source data in an engaging and visually stunning format is Information is Beautiful. Check it out here. A great website for finding inspiration.
In the last decade, there has been an increase in the use of data in journalism, particularly data or information that is displayed in charts, graphs and maps.
From a PR’s perspective, it’s always in our interest to make the data clear and easy to understand. It is an incredibly powerful way of promoting a client through visual representation of key facts. Using visual images such as graphs and pictures will elevate the data and bring it to life.
Anyone can report stories with data, you’ll just need to follow a few steps.
Source the data
To start with, you have to find the data. There are some tried and tested sources of data frequently used in data journalism. You can start by looking at the following sources.
- Google Search Data - There is a wealth of search data that can inform on topical trends.
- Office for National Statistics - The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the UK's largest independent producer of official statistics.
- You Gov - Again, an official source for UK data.
- Statista - A paid-for platform that has comprehensive data sets.
- Googling - Sometimes there’s no substitution for just Googling. There are lots of sector-specific papers and specialist data sets to be found.
- Freedom of Information requests - You can request your own specialist data, or have a look through this website: What Do They Know? Where you can browse existing published FOIs.
- Run a survey or poll - You can pay for a survey or poll through a specialist business, or do it through any of your existing channels. Encourage respondents through your socials, and incentivise participation.
- Original data source - Looking closer to home, what do you have access to in your business? Customer data? Annual reports? Industry trends? All useable from a data standpoint.
Be creative with searching, you will often find some interesting data just playing around on the internet. I've found inspiration for a data story on Reddit in the past.
Organising and finding the story
You should always try and keep an open mind so that you don’t interpret the data in a preconceived way.
Once you have your data, you need to get rid of any unneeded stats, to gain a better understanding of it. The data needs to be clean and focused. The hard part of working with data is often organising or interpreting it in a usable format to enhance the story. I’d suggest exporting your data sets to Google Sheets, where you can add in all the relevant stats, and collaborate with colleagues.
You then need to find the stories in it. Look at the wider context that this data sits in. This is the fun part, as you can often find insights you never expected. You can flex the data to fit a narrative, but it needs to be credible and you still need to tell the story.
Visualising THE data
So you have a clean and unique data set, and a strong hook or angle to work with. Great building blocks to visualising the data.
You now need to figure out the best way to represent the information in a straightforward and easy to understand format. Most of the time, this comes in the shape of an accompanying graphic or visual. It is now easier than ever to visualise data on a small budget, and there are tools available on the internet to help with this.
But many PR agencies and marketing departments now have access to developers and designers who can really elevate the data and visualise it in an interesting way.
Be creative. Look at what's worked elsewhere. Play around on Information is Beautiful. Fail fast. Give it a go, as a lot of this is trial and error. There is no right and wrong, there is just creative differences.
Here at Motive, we often source and research data for our clients, then present the data in a nice visual.
For example during the first lockdown, for our client NetVoucherCodes, we ran a survey asking a pool of respondents to find out if Brits are drinking more or less tea in lockdown.
The survey, and additional research revealed that tea drinkers across the UK have adapted to lockdown by drinking an extra 111,972,000 cups of tea a day.
This campaign was pulled together using original research and existing statistics. It turned out that Brits who drink tea were drinking an extra two cuppas a day on average which = 9.98 Olympic swimming pools of extra tea a day! Lots of quirky hooks and angles to explore.
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.