Carmen Aguilar Garcia
Country/area: United Kingdom
Organisation: Sky News
Organisation size: Big
After seven years working as a TV reporter and a digital journalist in several media in Spain and Chile, I had the opportunity to work on a data project. Neither I nor the rest of the team had previous experience working with data, so we took a few online courses before starting. The process wasn’t easy nor efficient due to our lack of knowledge but, after finalising it, I realised this was the kind of journalism I wanted to specialise in. I kept taking online courses but the more I dug into this discipline the more I discovered I could and should learn about it. I, therefore, decided to invest a full year learning about data and its application to journalism to have a strong preparation before facing this new path in my career. I then moved to the UK to study the MA Data Journalism at Birmingham City University, led by Paul Bradshaw, who has become my referent since then. As soon as I graduated, I had the opportunity to join Sky News as the first data journalist. I was the first but did not want to be the only one for longer. My main goal was to show how data journalism adds value to traditional reporting and to demonstrate that this is a discipline to put the focus on and invest in. I was only a reporter, so the way of showing this was making an impact with my work. My new skills were useful to find new stories hidden in data that other media hadn’t reported about. I have also contributed to other colleagues’ stories by looking for new stories or angles and by using data to add context and to explain the wider problem. Data has also been the starting point of several investigations published on all our platforms, and it has been used to allow the user to personalise the information, offering and analysing data as local as possible. As a solo data journalist, I have covered the whole process, from checking the quality of the data to building visualisations and creating visual projects. But I have not been alone. I have made collaboration with other departments a fundamental part of my strategy. On one hand, I have contributed to other journalists’ work – helping them with statistical analysis, creating data structures to easily query data and share findings, offering new stories and helping with visual storytelling. I have also trained journalists and designers to use data visualisation tools and data software. On the other hand, joining forces with professionals with specific skills (such developers, correspondents and designers) enriched and improved the stories I have worked in and made possible more complex projects. This idea of collaboration also contributed to showing what data journalism is and how it can add value to their work across the newsroom, planting a small seed in every department. When the pandemic started, my workload increased exponentially but all this previous work laid the foundation to better face the new challenge. Since COVID started, I have published stories and visualisations more frequently and have worked with designers, TV reporters, digital journalists and developers to create useful content for our audience. But , I also went a step further and co-developed an automation project from which all the newsroom benefited from. Almost two years since I joined, I am not the only data journalist in Sky News anymore. Not only am I part of a team, but I have been recognized in international conferences and invited to share my expertise with other journalists who, like me, might be facing a solo
Description of portfolio:
In all the projects I am presenting I have been in charge of the data analysis and the data visualisations, as well as co-structuring the stories to better present them for our audience. I have adapted my skills and my knowledge to the process and necessities of each story, using several data tools, such as R, Python, Excel, Open Refine, QGIS and Google Sheets to gather, clean and analyse data, and building visualisations with Flourish and Datawrapper to tell visual stories.
I have worked on daily stories as well as medium- and long-term projects and investigations, which means that I have had to manage my time efficiently to meet all necessities.
The pressure on daily and weekly stories – such as COVID analyses about infections and excess deaths within the UK and Europe or analyses to reveal the inequality in the rollout of the vaccine across the world and the importance of India in the vaccine supply – has been considerably high. I have undertaken high-level analyses, co-produced the stories and built visualisations in a short period of time – sometimes within a day. In addition to that time pressure, working for an international media means meeting high expectations, reaching a diverse audience and competing with bigger data teams.
While working on longer projects and investigations, I have developed strong collaboration skills and created a robust working relationship with many departments across Sky News. The story about the people displaced due to climate events involved collaborating with designers and reporters, as well as external organisations (the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre), and I joined forces with the recently created forensic team to reveal deforestation in the highest protected areas of the Brazilian Amazon.
One of the biggest challenges during the first two years was facing the pandemic. Covering this story was a titanic work for a single person, and, again, collaboration was key to face this up. Working with a developer, we automated part of the data process (gathering, cleaning, standardising and visualising data) and we’ve created stories – such as the travel tracker – which updated automatically to offer the latest information to our users without any daily human intervention
This is one of the projects which has had a great impact internally. It has contributed to saving dozens of hours, especially to the data team, increasing the number of stories and visualisations published and offering up-to-date information at any time to our users. This system has also impacted on creating consistency among the departments, increasing the efficiency in the data and design departments and improving the content of many of our digital stories. Moreover, it has been recognised externally, as we were invited to talk about it at the Journalism AI Conference and it was shortlisted in the SIGMA Awards.
Several experts have also praised many of the data stories, such as the one about the lack of diversity among the UK councilors, the investigation about the deforestation in the Amazon and the shortage of general practitioners (GPs) in England. Likewise, the scroll-down technique to present the data in many of the stories better present the information and increase the engagement, and it has also been highlighted by people in and out of the industry.
Pageviews are also a good metric to assess the impact. Many of the data stories have been in the top ten of the most viewed on our digital site. In fact, the story about the shortage of GPs in England has been one of the most-read stories of 2021, even though it was published at the end of the year.