How does Europe get its gas?

Country/area: United Kingdom

Organisation: Financial Times

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 04/11/2021

Credit: Project team: David Sheppard, Claire Buchan, Sam Joiner, Chris Campbell, Cale Tilford, Niko Kommenda and Caroline Nevitt. Additional work by David Blood.


This project is the result of the FT’s new collborative Visual Storytelling team, an interdisciplinary group of journalists combining data, design, coding and reporting skills.

The team focus on projects where visual elements play an essential role in communicating the story, working on everything from investigations to explainers across the spectrum of news and features.

The modus operandi of the Visual Storeytelling team is to collaborate with domain specialist reporters – in the case, the FT’s energy editor David Sheppard

Project description:

In the autumn of 2021, Europe experienced an energy crisis driving gas prices five times higher than a year previous. This visual explainer expertly unpicked the complex geopolitics behind Europe’s gas supply, using a scrollytelling map as the canvas and charts and data as supporting evidence.

The overall goal was to deliver a memorable, compelling explanation of a topical story. This was achieved by assembling an inter-discplinary project team to work with the FT’s energy correspondent.

The project was executed within a two week window and published while the crisis was still at its height.

Impact reached:

In a word, enlightenment. As readers explained themselves in the comments:

“Indeed, brilliant. Really insightful. After 5 mins I’m an expert in gas supply.”

“Stunning piece of work with the interactive visuals. Before I saw this piece I thought that I understood most of the details behind the issue. I did not. But now with this superb piece of journalism, I do.”

“One of the most engaging, interactive, and beautifully illustrated articles I’ve read in a long time! Congrats to the visual storytelling team!”

The piece was widely shared and praised across social media too – eg. https://twitter.com/flowbohl/status/1458398371358691328  “

Amazing storytelling through data from @FT https://ig.ft.com/europes-gas-crisis-pipelines-explainer/… #dataviz It also perfectly illustrates the complexity of the natural gas market and UK’s reliance on imports.
Reader engagement was high, with average time on page of over three minutes.



Techniques/technologies used:

We used a variety of technologies for story assets – Mapbox, QGIS, R, d3, Flourish, Illustrator.

The overall story structure and delivery used our own custom page environment (starter kit), which uses React and other javascript frameworks to deliver a scrollytelling experience.

Figma was used to help design the user experience and storyboard the narrative structure of the piece.


What was the hardest part of this project?

Overall, the hardest part of the project was simply the timing – this was an ambitious news-adjacent story, with a limited window for publishing (the emerging gas crisis), within which we had to problem solve a number of challenging issues, including creating a single, up to date, authoritative map of pipelines from multiple sources.

With a timeline as compressed as this, parallel development of content was essential, and so therefore project management by Visual Stories editor Sam Joiner was crucial.

What can others learn from this project?

1) That newsroom collaborations work. The combination of beat reporter and visual journalists is hard to beat when it comes to delivering innovative jouranlism with depth.

2) That less is often more. The temptation with a piece like this is to cram as much information in as possible. With this project, althought there is depth, it is carefully judged. The editing process was still incredibly important in terms of what to leave in.

3) Visual-first formats work best on genuinely visual topics. Using the map as a canvas for the first part of the story helps draw the reader into the geopolitics at play in a way that no other format can.

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