Journalism can always benefit from strategies to make their stories more appealing to a wider audience, of course, as long as this does not interfere with the veracity of the content. On the marketing shore, the process of producing content can often be less thorough and complicated. The balance between appealing and informing the audience sometimes leans towards the former. However, content marketers can always learn from journalists about the ability of finding a great story when, at first sight, there does not seem to be one at all.
In today’s internet landscape, creativity and innovation have an extremely high value. There is no doubt that some marketers excel at coming up with original ideas for fresh and effective content. However, there are also too many common places and the audience is often underestimated in their ability to digest intellectually challenging content. Maybe breaking out from the most ubiquitous forms of marketing content the internet has to offer does not require insane amounts of creativity or being on top of the latest trends of digital content. Perhaps sometimes a little bit of good, old-fashioned reporting and storytelling is enough. After all, people are crazy about a good story, and the marketing agencies of the world are full of journalism graduates who want and know how to report on them.
So, what’s data journalism and what does it have to do with all this?
Obviously there is not a dictionary definition. But you could say that data journalism is a discipline that combines different skills (data mining, analysis, coding, graphic design, interaction design, and writing among others) in order to extract compelling stories out of a set of raw data.
Even though the name has only recently been widely adopted, data journalism has been around for a while. The digital revolution has consolidated it as a discipline on its own and the newsrooms of many of the most important media outlets in the world already have a person, team, or even whole departments entirely dedicated to finding and reporting on stories that can only be understood through data analysis and visualisation. These departments typically produce full pieces of content on their own, but they also liaise with reporters to offer them tools to increase reader engagement through the use of data in their stories.
One of the main players in the field of data journalism is without a doubt The Guardian Datablog. They have produced many important stories such as the crowdsourcing of 450,000 MP expenses records in the UK, and the coverage of the Afghanistan and Iraq war logs.
Its founder and first editor Simon Rogers, nowadays Data Editor at Twitter, gave a very inspiring TEDx talk in which he makes a parallel between Punk and Data-journalism based on the famous premise made popular by Punk musicians in the 70s: “Anyone can do it”.
Today’s digital landscape presents us with many freely available tools to gather, analyse and visualise freely available data. Obviously, a sophisticated set of skills can yield an impressive result. However, too much can be achieved with only Google Docs and Fusion Tables, and there is an ever-growing amount of free online resources that will help you quickly develop the skills necessary to start producing your own data-based content.
Some of these resources are:
Not overly serious data journalism
The type of data journalism content most people are familiar with is hard news (economics, politics, weather, etc.) and sports, probably as these two information segments are heavily driven by numbers. However, data that can be used to create compelling stories can be also found for other fields. One of my favourite data journalism pieces is The Art Market for Dummies created by French freelance journalist Jean Abbiateci. In this interactive web article, Abbiateci explains some of the complexities of the international art market by using different visualisations and organising artists and their works in periods, styles and prices. Not only does this piece manage to explain a very complex topic in a simple manner but it also engages the reader in a rich interaction with the content.
Another great example is Constellations of Directors and Their Stars, which was published by the New York Times. This piece explores the relationships between different film directors and actors. It shows how some stars tend to gravitate around certain directors and how these relationships evolve over time.
Data journalism and content marketing
In June 2014, T Brand Studio, part of the advertising unit of The New York Times, created a remarkable piece of content sponsored by Netflix and published it in the days before the release of the second season of Orange is the New Black. The piece, which was called Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work?, won the appraisal of both marketers and journalists around the world. It is a combination of video and audio interviews, with former inmates, statistics, data visualisations and text, which show the chilling situation of women inmates in today’s American prisons.
A few weeks before that, Netflix had posted another piece of sponsored content called TV Got Better. This time it was in Wired. This one analysed how the technological advances of today have changed the way we watch TV. Some of its stats are crowdsourced live from within the page and some are also updated in real time.
Another great example of content derived from data is the article “In the city that we love”, which was published by a fitness tracker manufacturer called Jawbone in their company blog. The article analyses the sleeping patterns of the inhabitants of different cities around the world to get an insight on their habits and on events that impacted those sleeping patterns. The article presents an interactive graphic that allows the reader to see and compare these sleeping patterns in a way that informs and engages.
These are only a few examples, but they illustrate how data can inform and inspire our content creation process. They also demonstrate how to make our content stand out in the ocean of articles, lists, videos and infographics our audience is faced with every day. Data journalism has taken the lead in exposing a wider audience to this type of content and has also created a wealthy base of resources for newcomers to use. It is up to us to adapt and implement these materials and techniques to our own work.