De Tijd

Country/area: Belgium

Organisation: De Tijd

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 10/05/2021

Credit: Stephanie De Smedt, Thomas Roelens, Andries Fluit


Thomas Roelens — Head of datajournalism

Stephanie De Smedt — Senior Journalist focussed on innovation and science

Andries Fluit  — Former head of datajournalism, now freelance storyteller. 


Project description:

The Belgian part of the North Sea is an intensely used marine area. Although limited in size, it intersects with one of the most intensive merchant shipping routes in the world. Besides shipping, this zone is used for a wide and increasing variety of human activities such as offshore wind energy and aquaculture. The limited space and difficult topology creates a daunting environment that demands creativity and drives innovation through spatial planning. We created an interactive animation that explains how it all comes together.

Impact reached:

The aim of the project was to support a series of articles highlighting different innovations that are currently happening on the Belgian North sea. First of all the article served as a visual visual entry point that pulled readers in by revealing the fascinating complexity of the North Sea. We offered readers a thorough explainer about the different activities, layers and stakeholders that re intertwined with each other. And additionally the article served as a central hub that linked back to all the individual articles that further discussed the individual projects.

The webpage was well received and became the spearhead of the whole series. More than 24.000 viewers read the article for an average time of almost 6 minutes, thus becoming one of our best and longest read articles of 2021. We received a lot of positive feedback within and – most importantly – outside the maritime world. The scientists we collaborated with were happy that their domain was well documented while common readers were fascinated by the wide span of topics the article highlighted.

Techniques/technologies used:

The data was collected from different scientifical institutes and knowledge centers that focus on maritime research. Most of them offered data as shapefiles (.shp). In order to make all those coherent we wrote a R script that converted all files to the same projection and trimmed the bounding box. For this we made use of the SF and SP libraries in R. We then exported the shapefiles as transparent png’s that could be easily layered in a scrollytelling format.

For the animation of the ships we used the same workflow. Wrangling the data in R, exporting the individual timeframes as png’s and finetuning the animation in after effects. We chose this option over a direct output of the animation with gganimate because it gave us more control to finetune the animation.

For the interactive page we made use of a scrollytelling template we developed during the past couple of years. It allows us to put more focus on the graphics and animations while we know that the platform will be stable.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The two biggest challenges in this project were the search of an enthusing storyboard and a compelling openings visual.

During the proces we became sincerely interested in the vast amount of projects and innovations happening in our little part of the North Sea. We wanted to transmit our own excitement about these projects to our audience without making an shallow information brochure.

Therefore, we worked hard on different versions of the storyboard in order the find the right combinations of visuals and story-elements before we set for the final structure. Simultaneously we made a lot of iterations of the openings visual because we really wanted to show how the North Sea is teeming with venturous projects and innovations.

I think this project should be selected because focusses on an original subject. Maritime land use is gaining economical, ecological and scientific importance and our project is one of the first – both national and international –  to reveal the underlying complexity of it.

What can others learn from this project?

– Although (data)journalism needs to be a critical filter to society, I’ve also found it interesting to highlight certain aspects of society in which people, companies and governments do excel. Positive journalism shouldn’t be naïve but is a valid choice of subject. 

– We invested a lot of time iterating on the storyboard. Basically using a two-column excel, for text and image. Making different versions of a story in different tabs is an interesting way to examine how a story works best. 

– We wanted to focus on content and thourough research but meanwhile we always considered the openingsvisual key to make the project work. Having a compelling visual to pull readers is an important tool to convey a complex story.

Project links: