Data-driven interactive reporting engages digital audience

Posted By Spring Eselgroth

By Matt Zuzulo

NEW YORK – Members of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers gathered for a conference on Friday, Oct. 10 at the McGraw Center for Business Journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Speakers Ben Casselman of FiveThirtyEight, Neil Irwin of the New York Times, Matthew Philips of Quartz and Moderator Annalyn Kurtz of Columbia University discussed the growth of data-driven reporting and took a look at how it changes the way stories are being told.

The speakers commented on the power of data journalism and how a well-produced graphic can tell a rich and compelling story.

“[The audience] was finding something engaging that they want to be play around with,” said Irwin, an economic correspondent for the New York Times. “For a lot of people, this kind of rich experience can explain how the economy’s doing better than I can.”

Even though all three publications (and more) compete with each other in the same niche they say that the rivalry isn’t an issue. “I think the competition is overblown,” said Cassleman. “I don’t think people are ditching one for another.” He says it’s the data reporting audience is growing and more people reading about it is beneficial for all websites in the market. “There is a deep hunger among the global audience for stories told these ways,” Irwin said.

The panel also commented on some of the challenges that can arise from data reporting. After all, some data isn’t collected. “There’s stuff it is publicly available, but it’s not user friendly. It’s spread out in a million different places,” said Casselman.

It’s one thing to find American employment data, but things like finding NFL suspension records is a different challenge.

Casselman said when FiveThirtyEight can’t find data they need for a story, they try to collect their own. Using the resources available such as news archives, they can build a workable data set. As an extra precaution, they enlist the help of readers to help collect
data and ensure it is a representative set.

Zuzolo is a senior at the University of Missouri.

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