Why newsrooms need storytelling tools and what we’ve learnt building them

David Bauer
NZZ Open
Published in
11 min readJan 18, 2017


Update, October 2019: How we stopped making all graphics by hand and started printing from our graphics toolbox

It’s 2017 and the best digital journalism is better than ever. However, the average story has barely improved over recent years. The kind of story that gets written dozens of times a day. The story that describes unemployment numbers, but doesn’t show them. The story that describes specific places, but doesn’t locate them on a map.

Those average stories all too often lack that one obvious visual element. That’s a problem. Users expect it (and if they don’t, it’s only because we’ve lowered their expectations). Yet a lot of newsrooms cannot deliver.

We at NZZ Storytelling* made it our core mission to improve the average story. There’s no point in standing out every now and then when your users get a subpar experience every day.

*NZZ Storytelling is an interdisciplinary team of twelve data journalists, graphics designers and developers at NZZ in Zurich. We create graphics and interactives, we tell visual, data-driven stories and we provide tools and templates for editors to do the same. Some of our work can be found here.

The only way to tackle the problem at scale is by making sure a lot of people in the newsroom are capable of producing those simple visual elements. That’s why we built Q, a storytelling toolbox for editors. It’s now one year since we launched it and we thought…