Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Digital Story Innovation team

Entry type: Portfolio

Country/area: Australia

Publishing organisation: Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Organisation size: Big

Cover letter:

The ABC’s Digital Story Innovations team is a collection of journalists, developers, a designer and social media and video specialists. The team is focussed on data-driven, visual storytelling for Australian audiences.

Since its inception in 2017, we’ve used data to investigate and visualise stories on a broad range of issues from the invasion of Ukraine to illegal logging, to political donations and telling the story of severe shortages within Australia’s childcare system.

The DSI’s portfolio for 2022 showcases the team’s expanding repertoire of visualisation and data analysis techniques.

We’ve used 3D models to tell the story of Russia’s war on the Ukrainian population and its culture, and to explore the aftermath of the enormous volcanic eruption off of mainland Tonga. We’ve used data-mining techniques to continue our investigation into money flowing from the gambling industry into Australia’s political system.

The portfolio is more than a showcase of different data-visualisation techniques, it highlights our commitment to meticulously researched journalism and using data to enhance investigations.

Description of portfolio:

In “Culture in the Crosshairs”, we followed the efforts of volunteers and human rights workers to document the destruction of treasured Ukrainian buildings.

We took point cloud data (gigabytes worth of material and billions of individual points) captured on the ground in Ukraine using a LiDAR laser scanner and drone, and painstakingly processed it down to a point where we could build a fly-through of the buildings using 3D javascript animation libraries.

Because of the size of the point clouds, we had to use innovative techniques that allowed the data to load in blocks that allowed the visualisations to work for audience members without fast internet connections or older mobile devices.

In the ‘Syria Playbook’, we used 3D building footprint data to analyse and show the devastation caused by the Russian attack on Mariupol. We used this to quantify the number of buildings destroyed in central Mariupol, using this an entry point into the wider story of the tactics used by Russian forces in Ukraine.
In Mapping Australia’s childcare blackspots we used exclusive data to expose the massive divide in access to early education in Australia.

This project aimed to show users why the research mattered, not just tell them. Rather than simply reporting the key findings, we combined Mitchell Institute data with ABS census data to create a series of beautiful maps and graphics that illustrated, through striking visuals, the stark link between access to childcare and broader disadvantage. Our story sparked significant public debate and shaped policy in the lead up to Australia’s federal election in May election.

In “How a Tongan Volcano Shocked the World”, we used seafloor elevation data to create a model of the underwater caldera that produced the enormous volcanic eruption and resulted in shockwaves rippling through the Earth’s atmosphere.

In 2022, we continued our series “Hitting the Jackpot” which combined sophisticated data mining techniques with meticulous research and shoe-leather reporting to examine, in unprecedented detail, the money flowing from the gambling industry into Australia’s political system. The team produced what was the first investigation to analyse gambling-related political payments across all seven state and territory databases in Australia.

In a piece looking at one the world’s best female football players, Sam Kerr, we built a database from scratch by tracking down footage of nearly every single one of her professional career goals. A challenging task given many games in the early days of professional women’s football in Australia were rarely televised. We then visualised this data to trace the evolution of her game from a promising 15-year-old to seasoned professional.

We also analysed housing rental data to show just how widespread the nation’s rental crisis had become, using geospatial data analysis we interrogated a government’s claim that it was protecting old growth forests and in another year of extreme weather in Australia the team explored how these escalating climate risks could affect insurance premiums.

This portfolio demonstrated a breadth of application of non-standard story-telling techniques that required a combination of journalism skills to unpack, investigate and explain stories, and design, geospatial and development skills to create and adapt the visualisations so that the end result could reached by a wide audience using without compromising the user experience.

Project links: