Stories hidden in the data, stories in the comments

the tax gap

My attention was drawn this week by David Hayward to a visualisation by David McCandless of the tax gap (click on image for larger version). McCandless does some beautiful stuff, but what was particularly interesting in this graphic was how it highlighted areas that rarely make the news agenda.

Tax avoidance and evasion, for example, account for £7.4bn each, while benefit fraud and benefit system error account for £1.5 and £1.6bn respectively.

Yet while the latter dominate the news agenda, and benefit cheats subject to regular exposure, tax avoidance and evasion are rare guests on the pages of newspapers.

In other words, the data is identifying a news hole of sorts. There are many reasons for this – Galtung & Ruge would have plenty of ideas, for example – but still: there it is.

The comments

But that’s only part of what makes this so interesting. By publishing the data and having built the healthy community that exists around the data blog, McCandless and The Guardian benefit from some very useful comments (aside from the odd political one) on how to improve both the data and the visualisation.

This is a great example of how the newspaper is stealing an enormous march on its rivals in working beyond its newsroom in collaboration with users – benefiting from what Clay Shirky would call cognitive surplus. Data is not just an informational object, but a social one too.

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