What the DJA 2017 entries teach us about the state of data journalism

The Data Journalism Awards 2017, organised by the Global Editors Network, received 573 submissions of the highest standards. This is a record high for the competition! But what can we learn from them? What do they say about the state of the industry? In this article, compiling insights from the DJA Jury made of international experts, we’ll try and find out.

**All entries to the DJA 2017 competition can be found on the GEN Community website. Collage made by Marianne Bouchart out of 2017 entries picked at random

This year, 573 projects, from 51 countries, representing the 5 continents were submitted to the Data Journalism Awards. That’s over 20% more than last year and the highest number of entries the competition ever received. Together, they showcase the best data journalism projects of 2016–17 and highlight the fact that data-driven storytelling is going strong internationally.

“I am so delighted with this record-breaking crop of entries, from a huge variety of incredible journalists. Data journalism has become a vital part of reporting and so important for the future of news. These awards really reflect that.” Simon Rogers, Data Editor at Google News Lab, DJA Director

There are ten categories this year, from “Data visualisation of the year” to “Investigation of the year” or “Open data” and, winning projects will receive a prize worth $1801(US) each (that’s $18 000 in total!) at the DJA 2017 Ceremony in Vienna, on 22 June 2017, during the seventh annual GEN Summit.

The quality of applications in 2017 is higher than ever. We’ve received projects from large organisations well known for their work in data journalism such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg, BuzzFeed News, BBC News, Al Jazeera, Le Monde or Caixin.

Smaller organisations from all over the world are also represented such as Pajhwok Afghan News (Afghanistan), Civio Foundation (Spain), Bellingcat (UK) and IndiaSpend (India), amongst others.

51 different countries are represented this year, including Pakistan, South Korea, China, Costa Rica, and Colombia, to name just a few.

We are also proud to see that more and more organisations in Asia take part in the competition every year. For 2017, 20% of entries came from Asian countries as we received many submissions from China, Indonesia or the Philippines.

We launched two new categories for this year’s competition and they got quite popular for a first round… The new “Student and young data journalist of the year” category got 69 entries from 20 countries! Does that mean the new generation of data journalists is on point? We’ll find out on 22 May 2017 at the DJA Ceremony when winners are revealed!

After looking for the usual stats on entries (countries, regions, size of teams, categories, etc.), we decided to make a table gathering top keywords often mentioned when talking about data journalism and see how many times they were mentioned throughout the 573 entries of the DJA 2017.

Here it is:

Of course we looked up things like “election”, “money” and yes, “Trump”.

Also, there was that Medium article recently by Dominikus Baur that was called “The death of interactive infographics?”, which got quite a lot of people talking. Looking at DJA 2017 entries, we are more inclined to answer this question with a confident “No”, as the keyword “interactive” was used 195 times throughout the 573 entries, either in the title or description. “Map” was used 228 times, and “visualisation” was used 214 times. It is quite exciting to see that interactive graphics are still very much on and the examples coming through this year’s entries to the DJA 2017 competition are really inspiring.

The Data Journalism Awards 2017 Jury

What’s the state of the data journalism industry today? We asked the DJA Jury.

Last month we had a special discussion on the DJA Slack team about the past year in data journalism.

Seeing that news organisations are experimenting with new technologies, including VR, or at least getting their head around it these days, we asked jury members whether they thought the world of data journalism is in good shape, or not.

Here is what they had to say:

I think it depends (as always) what we mean when we say ‘data journalism’… But speaking on the ‘viz’ side of things, I think it’s going through a bit of a retrenchment following a year-plus of irrational exuberance. Viz was going to save journalism, it was the new business model, it was a floor wax, a dessert topping… you name it.

I think that period is over now, for better or worse. I think it is institutionalized at the big organisations like the BBC, NYT and such, but I don’t think you’ll see a ton of growth under that.” Aron Pilhofer, Temple University (USA)

I feel like the US election was a huge pivotal moment, in that it dominated so many resources among data journalists and yet data journalism was perceived to have got it wrong (which is unfair — it was predictive reporting which got it wrong).
At the same time, this is a moment of enormous potential for data journalism. Facts themselves are under attack, open data is under threat. If ever there was a time for reporters to help the world make sense of data, it’s now.Simon Rogers, Google News Lab (USA)

There are some who are on the right track. NYT, Guardian for instance and you can see why… they’ve been going at this for a number of years now. Others catching up quickly like AJE. The BBC tends to do interesting things but it seems that there are not enough people skilled up to be doing data journalism and to be doing it well.

For instance at the Beeb there is a central visual journalism team where all projects/pitches get fed into. They come up with interesting stuff, that applies to a vast audience. But it makes them less agile for instance to do something that will be specific for the Vietnamese service/audience. So the thing we’re missing is skills.” Esra Dogramaci, DW (Germany)

In the Philippines, the new tech is currently taking a back seat to counting. Our core focus right now is getting the raw data correct. Our big issue is state-sanctioned killings of drug users and drug dealers. The official police count has been changing over the last few weeks — huge controversy there.” Stephanie Sy, Thinking Machines (Philippines)

“I’m an eternal optimist, I guess. I see tons of opportunity in the current uncertainty about the journalism business model. And I do see data journalism and visualisations as key elements in finding our way to the future. Investigative journalism in general in the U.S. has gotten a big shot in the arm from the election of Trump, and data journalism is a major tool in much investigative reporting these days.” Steve Doig, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism (USA)

DJA 2017 Jury members will be looking for impact, innovation and clever dataviz

Members of the jury also revealed what they’ll be looking for in this year’s entries.

“I look for cases that make an impact and for us impact is: a. Service b. Change in something c. Good use of data exposed to citizen collaboration so they add value in a structured way, then of course beautiful dataviz and good storytelling using multimedia and data.
In my nerdy corner I love cases that prove that data science like AI or machine learning applied to unstructured data, or large volume databases really can accelerate investigations, analysis, findings” Momi Peralta, La Nacion (Argentina)
“I’m always impressed by clever analysis that finds some interesting pattern hidden in a large dataset. (Like that Buzzfeed’s tennis gambling story, The Tennis Racket)
As an investigative data journalist, I look for the impact that Momi talks about (above). But as a general consumer of news, I also am drawn to dataviz pieces that show me something interesting even in everyday life. For instance, I’ve been teaching sports data journalism lately, and I really like the kind of clever viz that gives me insight into the sports I follow.” Steve Doig, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism (USA)
“Simplicity and the wow factor. Tell a story without making it complicated. If your audience is scratching their heads about how to read or interpret something, you’re missing the mark.” Esra Dogramaci, DW (Germany)

Meet the rest of the jury on the DJA website.

So what’s next?

Well, all 573 projects will now be reviewed by members of our DJA pre-jury made of:

Together they will pick the top 60 projects or so and the DJA 2017 Shortlist will be released on 23 May 2017 at the Data Journalism Unconference 2017, a free, invitation-only event organised by GEN to discuss and tackle data journalism challenges across borders.

Organised in partnership with the BBC, with support from Google and Chartbeat, the event will gather around 60 participants from around the world and stand as a unique and exclusive opportunity to exchange ideas on how teams, techniques and models vary from one country to the other, with the ultimate goal to initiate fruitful international collaborations.

All the latest trends will be tackled: VR, drone journalism, machine learning, sensor technologies, but also themes such as trust or monetisation, in sessions shaped and picked by the participants themselves.

So far we have confirmed guests coming from all over Europe and from Asia, representing news organisations like The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Economist, Al Jazeera English and Deutsche Welle. Some are data journalists or editors, some are designers or startups founders, and all of them share a passion for data journalism and interactive news.

If you think you should also be part of this incredible event, you can request an invite now.

Special thanks to Yolanda Ma, DJA Jury member and founder of Data Journalism China, and Emilie Kodjo, GEN’s director of communications, for their help putting this article together.