As Germany’s international media company, DW offers reporting in over 30 languages. Its goal is to provide factual, unbiased and insightful information in order to provide the basis for people forming their own opinions – particularly in countries where free, unbiased information might be scarce.
Producing insightful data-driven stories that are relevant to audiences spread across the globe, is a challenge we navigate anew with every project. Subsequently, we aim to cover topics that are pertinent irrespective of location: stories on migration, environment and climate change or on democratic values have time and time again proven to be interesting to DW’s readers and viewers worldwide.
While DW – launched initially as a radio broadcaster in 1953 – has a longstanding tradition reporting on these topics, DW’s data team was founded only in 2017. Since then, the team has grown from two founding members to now seven data journalists. Each of the team members comes with skills in journalism, code and design to realise a story from idea to final published product on multiple platforms.
Although each team member comes with the skills to produce a story on their own, we foster collaborations – both within the data team, but also with other DW journalists as well as media partners across Europe. In 2019, DW Data became a core member of the European Data Journalism Network ([EDJNet](https://www.europeandatajournalism.eu/)). In our first project phase, DW Data committed to experiment with how we might best tell [data-driven stories on social media](https://innovation.dw.com/articles/data-driven-journalism-for-social-media-creating-the-right-post-for-every-platform-and-occasion). This project resulted in a series of templates we continue to use today. Together with DW’s Innovation Lab, we also developed a [data-driven AR filter for Instagram](https://innovation.dw.com/articles/you-draw-it-ar-instagram-face-filters-for-data-driven-journalism). In our second project phase with EDJNet, we co-created investigative data units that brought together partners from different countries to craft missing datasets together, for example with our [Covid in prisons](https://www.dw.com/en/covid-how-europes-prisons-have-fared-in-the-pandemic/a-60006262) investigation in 2021 and [plastic promises](https://www.dw.com/en/european-food-companies-break-their-plastics-promises/a-62622509) investigation in 2022. Collaborating in EDJNet and building upon the regional expertise of partners, allowed us to tell stories from different perspectives adding up to a kaleidoscope for each topic.
Beyond collaborating with external partners, DW Data proved crucial to several inhouse developments. We started an internal newsletter and offered training to promote data journalism across all desks and languages. We pushed to go beyond department silos and lead DW’s initial Visual Journalism Team and started to collaborate daily with DW’s Infographics team and DW’s research unit. And with the Covid-19 pandemic, we showcased how (semi)automated content creation workflows could look at a multi-language media company.
Description of portfolio:
Against the backdrop of a strong news department, we decided for the data team to not focus on stories strictly set by the news agenda but instead highlight contemporary topics that deserve attention. We strive to identify story angles others might not cover and try to shed light on underreported issues to tell exclusive stories.
With its broad language portfolio, DW is a very diverse outlet allowing us to cover topics from different regions and beats. The diversity also extends to data gathering: we work with datasets already available, but also create datasets together with partners, scour scientific publications, set up scrapers to collect data or file FOI requests to make information public. Transparency and reproducibility are important to our work, therefore we publish all data and code on [Github](https://github.com/dw-data).
To maintain quality, we developed a standardised pitching process that involves getting feedback from languages desks and expert departments early on, as well as thinking about follow-ups and how to tell a story adequately on different platforms.
These examples showcase how we put this philosophy into practice:
[Building own databases] Using recycled plastic, using less plastic in packaging, organising beach-cleanups: European food and drink companies got creative on making their footprint greener. But do they follow through on their promises? Our investigation into plastic promises (project link 2 to 4) together with partners from the European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet) set out to answer that question. Combing through hundreds of sustainability reports, we co-created a database detailing the goals and whether a company succeeded. The investigation showed how only a fraction of promises is actually kept, while others are silently dropped or the goalposts are moved again and again.
[Politics vs reality] As the plastic promises story demonstrates, pledges and reality don’t necessarily match. Naturally, we are not only sceptical towards promises of industries, but also take a closer look at political decisions: The EU invests billions in infrastructure in its effort to replace Russian fuels with liquefied natural gas. We investigated why this action could prove to be a dead end, both for taxpayers and for the climate (project link 5), by digging through difficult to obtain data and asking for information via FOI requests to several European governments.
Another example of holding politicians accountable is our investigation into the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (project links 8 to 10) together with EDJNet partners. The fund set out to “address the root causes of migration” in 2015, particularly focusing on economic development and job creation. With our investigation we traced how the focus shifted towards migration control and how this focus did not necessarily reflect nor tackle the reality on the ground – relying on data scraped over three years, database queries and around 20 interviews with experts from African countries as well as the EU.
[Not finished after publication: Follow-Ups] With publication, stories often move off journalists’ desks making space for new ones. We made it a habit to reserve some “desk space” for following up. The above mentioned EUTF series is one example, our story on border controls within the Schengen area (project link 6) is another one.
[Shed light on otherwise unknown] Flooded towns, destroyed homes, missing people: Failing dams are often tragic. Our investigation into dams in Brazil (project link 7) highlighted a systemic aspect connecting individual tragic incidents. Many dams don’t have an emergency plan and for half of all dam structures the legal status is unknown. For now, there are no consequences for dam operators, resulting in a situation where an estimated 1 million people live in proximity to an at-risk dam structure.