Spotlight on data journalism

Making our data journalism stand out on social media

Here’s some we prepared earlier

The stories produced by The Economist’s data team attract a lot of readers. Some of the team’s most popular pieces include our own glass ceiling index and a daily chart about the most dangerous cities in the world. It didn’t come as a surprise that, when we asked our readers what content they wanted to see more of, they said data journalism. So we decided to take two main steps to meet this demand.

First, we figured out how to work on even more data-driven stories.

Second, we came up with a plan for how to nurture and expand the community that enjoys our data journalism, especially on social media.

The project has started with collaboration. The social and data teams have come together to work on this. They’ve jointly hired me to sit with both teams equally and to build a bridge between them.

I’ve researched why our data journalism is distinctive and how it helps The Economist to reach new audiences. I’ve come to the conclusion that in a world of clickbait and wild opinions, our charts stand out and are even used by readers to give evidence in arguments on Twitter. Readers associate numbers, statistics and charts with proof, as long as they are clear and provide sources. We think that is one of the reasons why The Economist is a respected and trusted media organisation. I believe the data team’s work contributes to this because it helps to make complex issues understandable.

One of my favourite Economist charts

The details of a new social media strategy for our data journalism

The next question is: How do we make our data journalism and visualisations stand out on social media? By doing things like presenting our charts in videos, creating GIFs of interactive charts and repackaging our content.

But we want to go beyond simple clicks, likes and reactions. We are planning to engage with our readers and the data community and keep the conversation going.

Ta-daaa! Gif by yours truly.

We want to engage and interact with data-curious readers and professionals

Stats and numbers alone can’t build trust. But an ongoing, open conversation about our work, what we do and why, can shine a light on the high-quality data journalism we produce. We can do this in small ways without taking editorial staff away from their primary job of finding stories.

One small way we can interact more is to adopt a more human voice on Twitter with our data team account, giving readers a better understanding of who we are and what we do. In the past we have used the account just to present our Daily Charts from the Graphic Detail blog. From now on we’ll be replying and quote-tweeting and hoping to bring a more human voice to it. For example, you might wonder why the team makes certain decisions, or what the methodology was behind a particular chart or graphic. We want to be open about that — so tweet us and we’ll probably answer.

Why did they choose to visualise the data with a stacked bar chart instead of a chart with multiple lines? Why is this graph not interactive?

We want to answer these questions, on Twitter and beyond.

We’d like to give readers an insight into how the hive mind behind the data desk works. So we’re also planning a regular blog post or newsletter that reveals more about the charts and data stories we’ve worked on, what data journalism or visualisations we’ve seen and liked elsewhere, and other things we think might interest our audience. If you’d like to give us your thoughts on this idea, we would love it if you would take this (genuinely!) quick survey.

As the first step in what we hope will be a transparent debate and ongoing exchange, we would welcome any comments or thoughts, either as replies here on Medium or on Twitter. And if you would like to give us feedback on the prototype of our data newsletter, please send an e-mail to mariesegger(at)economist.com.

Marie Segger is a social media fellow and data journalist at The Economist.