Category Archives: online journalism

Striking the balance between graphic design and data journalism: “Design is a conversation”

Beirut blast scrollytell

Reuters’ Graphics Team is renowned for creating a myriad of innovative news stories under tight deadlines, from Covid-19 coverage to mapping the movement of shifting smoke from California wildfires. In a guest post for OJB, Hanna Duggal speaks to the team’s Simon Scarr and Marco Hernandez about pushing the boundaries of visual storytelling in the newsroom and the relationship between data and design. 

In a world that has become increasingly data-prolific and hardwired towards visual content, visualisation provides the newsroom with both a way to communicate complex data effectively and to engage audiences.

Data graphics have become more immersive, compelling and revealing, — and for Reuters, an integral part of how stories are told.

“I’m incredibly proud of our breaking news work,” says Simon Scarr, Reuters’ Deputy Head of Graphics. Continue reading

From passion to disillusionment and back again — developing the 7th habit of successful journalists

Most journalists are restless voyeurs who see the warts on the world, the imperfections in people and places. . . . gloom is their game, the spectacle their passion, normality their nemesis.

Image: A-Z Quotes

Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring the habits of successful journalists that are often described as being “innate” or “unteachable”: from curiosity and scepticismpersistence and empathy, to creativity and discipline. In this final post I look at a quality underpinning them all: passion.

Are journalists only ever born with a passion for their craft — or is it something that can be taught?

Of all the seven habits that have been explored in this series, passion is perhaps the one that seems most innate — a quality that you “either have or don’t have”.

Can we teach passion? Well, we can provide the reasons why someone might be passionate about their craft — we can inspire passion and we can create opportunities to experience the things that have stimulated passion in others. Continue reading

Why discipline is one of the 7 habits of successful journalists

"A nose for news, a plausible manner and an ability to write and deliver concise, accurate copy to deadline" - description of the qualities needed by journalists, from Ethics & Journalism by Karen Sanders

In a previous post I wrote about the central role of creativity in journalism training — in this penultimate post in a series on the seven habits of successful journalists, I explore how discipline is equally important in directing that creativity towards a professional end — and how it can actually help create the conditions for creativity. You can also read the posts on curiosity, scepticismpersistence and empathy.

While many are attracted to journalism because of its opportunities for creative expression, few are attracted by its various constraints. But it is those particular contraints which make journalism distinctive, and separate from other creative work such as art or fiction.

In fact you might argue that it is constraints that make journalism more similar to creative fields such as design, where the functionality and user of the work must be considered, leading to increasing cross-pollenation between them (e.g. the rise of design thinking in journalism).

These constraints can be broadly classed as aspects of the work that require self-control, or discipline. For example:

  • We must consider the audience in the selection and treatment of stories
  • We must hit regular deadlines
  • We must write within a particular word count or to particular timings
  • We must remain impartial and objective in our reporting (in most genres)

These aspects of discipline are reflected in some of the most common feedback given to trainee journalists: Continue reading

“There are still many questions that are not answered” – Nicolas Kayser-Bril on investigating algorithmic discrimination on Facebook

When deciding who to show an ad to, Facebook relies on gross stereotypes

 

In a special guest post for OJB, Vanessa Fillis speaks to AlgorithmWatch’s Nicolas Kayser-Bril about his work on how online platforms optimise ad delivery, including his recent story on how Facebook draws on gender stereotypes.

Kayser-Bril first became aware of automated discrimination when he read about an experiment done by researchers at North Eastern University in the US. Seeing that the analysis could be replicated in Europe, he decided to take a closer look at Facebook and Google’s distribution systems.

“Automated systems are supposed to bring relevant content to the users,” says Nicolas. “And I use ‘relevant’ because it’s the adjective that Facebook uses — and there is a sense that relevant content is determined based on the actions of the users themselves.”

But in reality, everything Kayser-Bril knows about large scale automated systems like Facebook’s news feed hints that their decisions about what to show to an user is based on many different factors instead. Continue reading

Tim Harford on telling data stories with audio: “You need to keep simplifying”

Economist and podcaster Tim Harford, author of How To Make The World Add Up, spoke to MA Data Journalism students this month. In a guest post for OJB Niels de Hoog rounds up Tim’s tips on creating compelling number-driven stories for radio and podcasts 

Orson Welles famously said that there’s nothing an audience won’t understand, as long as you can get them to be interested.

Listening to Tim Harford’s podcasts it is clear that he has taken this message to heart.

“If you’ve got a hook, a personality, or a question people want answered, that will carry people through a certain degree of complexity that they wouldn’t tolerate if it was reported straight.”

Take More or Less, his podcast about statistics for BBC Radio 4. At first glance it doesn’t offer the easiest subject for an engaging audio story — yet somehow the programme is very entertaining to listen to. Continue reading

Brazilian journalists launch network analysis tool to investigate political relationships

Cruza Grafos

The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji) has launched an advanced data tool to help journalists research about politicians and companies, reports Beatriz Farrugia

The platform, Cruza Grafos (“Crossing Graphs”), was created by a partnership between Brasil.io and the Google News Initiative

Cruza Grafos (registration required) is an online visual interface where journalists can research political candidates, and relate candidates to companies and entities with an official registration number in Brazil. 

The tool allows journalists to work with huge datasets without any coding.

According to Reinaldo Chaves, Abraji’s project coordinator, many journalists do not know how to code or even how to open a spreadsheet — a situation that makes some investigative projects impossible to happen. 

“We hope the Cruza Grafos makes this kind of investigation easier and democratizes access to huge datasets.”

Continue reading

Here’s how we teach creativity in journalism (and why it’s the 5th habit of successful journalists)

In the fifth in a series of posts on the seven habits of successful journalists, I explore how creativity can be developed in trainee journalists. You can read the posts on curiosity, scepticism, persistence and empathy here.

Describing journalism as a creative profession can cause discomfort for some reporters: we portray journalism as a neutral activity — “Just the facts” — different to fiction or arts that appear to ‘create something from nothing’.

But journalism is absolutely a creative endeavour: we must choose how to tell our stories: where to point the camera (literally or metaphorically), how to frame the shot, where to cut and what to retain and discard, and how to combine the results to tell a story succinctly, accurately and fairly (not always the story we set out to tell).

We must use creativity to solve problems that might prevent us getting the ‘camera’ in that position in the first place, to find the people with newsworthy stories to tell, to adapt when we can’t find the information we want, or it doesn’t say what we expected (in fact, factual storytelling requires an extra level of creativity given that we can only work with the truth).

All of those are creative decisions.

And before all of that, we must come up with ideas for stories too. The journalist who relies entirely on press releases is rightly sneered at: it is a sign of a lack of imagination when a reporter cannot generate their own ideas about where to look for news leads, or how to pursue those. Continue reading

How to develop empathy as a core tool in successful journalism

The Design Thinking Process - empathy is the first stage

Empathy is the first stage of design thinking. Image: Mike Boyson

In the fourth of a series of post on seven habits often associated with good journalism I look at a quality which is much less talked about, and often misunderstood — and why I believe it should be just as central as qualities such as persistence or curiosity.

Empathy — specifically cognitive empathy — is the ability to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes.

It is one of the more underrated qualities of good journalists, perhaps because people often confuse it with sympathy, or with emotional empathy.

The difference is important: it is possible to imagine what it is like to be a particular person (cognitive empathy), including criminals and corrupt officials, without feeling sorry for them (sympathy) or feeling the same way (emotional empathy). Continue reading

Developing persistence and tenacity as a journalist (7 habits of successful journalists part 3)

Apple alone on bare tree. Image by Rodger Evans
Tenacity image by Rodger Evans

In the third of a series of post on seven habits often associated with good journalism I look at how persistence and tenacity can be taught in journalism training — and why it should be.

One of the earliest skills that broadcast journalists learn is how to conduct a vox pop. The vox pop is an attempt to ‘take the pulse’ of the public on a topical issue: the journalist will stand in a busy public place and ask passers-by to share their thoughts on the issue of the day.

The results will typically be used as part of a news package (not, it should be pointed out, as a standalone story), particularly when the news story in question doesn’t have many other interviews or visuals to draw on. Most are quickly forgotten. Continue reading

The 7 habits of successful journalists: how do you develop scepticism?

In a previous post I outlined seven habits often associated with good journalism that are often talked about (wrongly) as ‘innate’ or ‘unteachable’. In this second post I look at scepticism: why it’s so important in journalism, and how it can be taught.

On its own the first habit of a successful journalist — curiosity — can only take us so far as a journalist: as we ask questions of our sources, we cannot merely report what people tell us — especially if two different sources say contrasting things.

Scepticism is important in journalism because it moves us from merely repeating what people have said, to establishing the factual basis that puts that information into context — whether those facts support or contradict those statements, or do not exist at all.

This has become particularly important in a modern information age when most public bodies can communicate with the public directly, without that accountability.

Scepticism as the voice of the audience

If curiosity represents the journalist acting as the eyes and ears of the audience, scepticism is where we act as the mouth of the audience.

More specifically, it is the way in which we give a voice to an audience which isn’t able to ask questions itself. Continue reading