I first entered the world of data journalism in 2016 after completing my masters at Goldsmiths, University of London. My role as a journalist with the Reach Data Unit (then the Trinity Mirror Data Unit) was my first job in the industry altogether, and I had no experience of data at all at the time. Little did I know that it would become a passion.
I’m forever grateful to my then-manager and mentor David Ottewell – now head of data journalism at the New Statesman Media Group – for taking a punt and hiring me despite my lack of experience, as now I can’t imagine doing anything other than data journalism as a career. Since then I have quickly risen to deputy editor of data and multimedia at Reach, within just a few short years.
In that role, I use open data, FoI requests and data scraping to create content for all the regional and national titles in the Reach network. Alongside long-term investigations and quick-turnaround, breaking news stories and longer-term investigations, I regularly collaborate with designers, coders and multimedia specialists to produce data visualisations, interactives, videos and audio. One example of this is my role as the creator of The North in Numbers podcast. That’s on top of managing the rest of the team, editing their work and training new staff members and those on work experience with us.
Outside of my role with Reach, I am a recurring guest lecturer and teacher of data journalism at both Goldsmiths and the University of Central Lancashire. I also regularly give talks about the importance of data within journalism (particularly at a local level) – including on a panel discussion for News You Can Use with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and speaking at events such as PyData Manchester, Open Data Manchester and Tech for Good Live.
I truly believe that data is one of the most important fields of journalism at the moment, and that no journalist is truly well rounded unless they have at least basic statistical skills. I think this has become particularly apparent in the last year, with the coronavirus pandemic putting a spotlight on statistics. However, despite the clear need for technical and mathematical ability in dealing with data, in my opinion the journalism part of data journalism is equally, if not more, important.
In my view the main role of a data journalist is to make those facts and figures relevant and engaging to people who are not data specialists themselves – and I aim to do this through the focus on people in my storytelling, along with the use of data visualisations and interactives. An inspiration to me on this front is Mona Chalabi, data editor at the Guardian US. Her use of illustration not only brings data to life but clearly and concisely explains complex issues, which is something I strive for in my own work.
I am also a firm believer in the importance of data for everyday news. While large scale investigations that take months to complete and look really impressive are an essential part of showcasing what data can do, there is also a need for data to fit into the model seen for other kinds of journalism. That means being able to create quick turnaround pieces that are responsive, relevant and drive pageviews. This is particularly relevant at Reach, and much of my work involves creating multiple, localised versions of a story using the same set of data to get the most from the figures, creating content for not one but many titles in the network.
Description of portfolio:
My investigation into Universal Credit was months in the making, combining several sets of data for the first time for a deep-dive into the benefits system. At a time of growing concerns about the impact of UC nationally, this project shed light on the devastating human cost of these policies at a local level.
Built by Adam Walker, the sites use innovative, animated data visualisations with illustrations by Marianna Longo, and case studies provided by local journalists, to bring the figures to life.
This is one of several sites created for different newsrooms from the same data. They have brought in hundreds of thousands of page views across the network, with an impressive average engagement time of 15 minutes thanks to their creative use of data visualisation.
In 2020 I also continued The North in Numbers for the Reach-wide Laudable project, with sound and production by Mark Magill. The first of its kind, this local, data-led podcast tells the human stories behind various statistics for the north of England. I bring together data analysis, wider research, and key interviews with experts and those most affected to provide new insight into vital issues that have a major impact on the north.
The focus on people, and the addition of images, links and data visualisation through Entale, helps engage a wider audience in statistics – which can otherwise feel impenetrable for many. As the episodes can be embedded directly into articles, there’s also scope for them to be used again and again in any related stories published by northern titles within the network.
Of course, much of my work in the last year has been taken up by coronavirus statistics, and I was particularly interested in combining these with other figures to provide fresh analysis on the topic. An example of this was my piece on student neighbourhoods that had seen a huge spike in cases since term began. I also worked with colleagues to provide accompanying graphics and video for social media, helping newsrooms share the story in a quick and engaging way.
Meanwhile, my piece on the dangerous myth of “Black on Black violence” used data from the Ministry of Justice to explore the issue in the wake of George Flyod’s murder in the US – showing how existing data can be analysed in response to the national news agenda. Similarly, the video on police targeting of Black people in the UK involved analysis of various figures from the Home Office to confirm what many were saying – that this is not just a problem in America. This also highlights how data can be vital in backing up anecdotal evidence.
The next three pieces in my portfolio are excellent examples of how I use interactives to bring data to life. All use postcode search to let readers explore hyperlocal data for their area, making it instantly more relevant and engaging. These widgets also have a use far beyond the pieces they are first published in; they are used again and again in related articles, adding value and driving registrations across the network.
Not all my work is digital-focused, however. I also produce content that is intended solely for use in print, with a focus on data visualisation. One example was my investigation into sexual offences in the armed forces. What this piece shows is the importance of not taking figures at face value, and instead digging deeper to get the real story behind the stats; again highlighting the importance of “journalism” in data journalism.
Each piece shown here is just one of many versions that were published across Reach sites.