The simple tool we use to decide what stories to work on at NZZ Visuals

David Bauer
NZZ Open
Published in
4 min readMar 22, 2019

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At NZZ Visuals, we made it our mission to foster the variety of how stories are told, mostly from a visual perspective. We do so by engaging on all levels of complexity, from providing a toolbox that allows anyone in the newsroom to produce their own simple graphics to large data-driven investigations and visual-first explainer pieces.

And in between those two extremes, this is where things get tricky. A story that could benefit from a custom-made graphic, but is fine without it, too. A story that is not data-driven, but probably should be. A story in which users would expect to see a video, but which won’t be featured prominently on our site or any of our other distribution channels. Typically, those stories are pitched by people from outside our team and we are asked to contribute. So what do we do with those requests?

We explicitly want to work on stories like these, and not just on large-scale visual projects. As a news organisation, there’s no point in standing out every now and then when your users get a subpar experience every day. In order for NZZ to be successful — especially in building a loyal, paying user base — we believe our work should go into a lot of stories, not just a few.

That being said, we need to make sure we spend our resources on stories that matter and where our contribution makes a difference. As a team, we’ve learned over time that…

a) we get way more requests than we can reasonably work on and produce results that meet our quality standards.

b) we took on too much work that in hindsight didn’t seem like the best use of our time.

c) we lacked a fast, reliable and transparent way of dealing with requests.

That is why we developed the «Visuals-Ampel», a traffic light-esque tool that either results in a green light (it’s a «go» for the project) — or not.

Here’s how it works:

We use six criteria to gauge whether our time will be well spent on the project, each giving the project zero, one or two points. A project needs at least six points in total to be greenlighted.

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David Bauer
NZZ Open

Journalist, curious generalist. www.davidbauer.ch. Sign up for my newsletter: http://weeklyfilet.com 📨✨