John Burn-Murdoch

Entry type: Portfolio

Country/area: United Kingdom

Publishing organisation: Financial Times

Organisation size: Big

Cover letter:

Given that I was fortunate enough to win a Sigma portfolio award in 2021 for my work covering Covid-19, it might seem a little cheeky to submit another portfolio award barely two years later. However, I feel that my work has taken another big step forward in this period in a way that speaks volumes about the way that data journalism itself is still evolving.

Two years ago I wrote as part of my submission that “data journalists weren’t often considered to be ‘words journalists’ “. For many, that remains the case, but reporting on Covid allowed me to break down the barriers that had previously left me labelled as a ‘graphics journalist’ and I started to feel more confident delivering fully shaped stories that integrated data-driven analysis, graphics and words into compelling stories. A question I asked myself at the time was how far I could take this approach within the context of a major international news organisation like the Financial Times.

The answer is contained in the portfolio that I am submitting this year. I am now a columnist at the FT, using data to produce data-driven opinion on a weekly basis.

I feel that my column — Data Points — is unique in many ways. It uses data, yes, but that by itself is not so distinctive these days. I have put into action many of the techniques that I originally used during my work on Covid — sourcing, combining and analysing disparate datasets, speaking with topic experts and academics. The timetable for my work remains demanding. But now, my range of editorial topics is much wider — and the output is evidence-based opinion journalism.

I am proud of the result, which I believe demonstrates that the career path of a data journalist need not be restricted to only certain quarters of the newsroom. In becoming a bona fide columnist at the FT, I’d like to feel that it might serve as a model from which other data journalists might learn, and that others responsible for career development in news organisations might also benefit from hearing about. I’d be delighted to be considered for a portfolio prize at this year’s Sigma awards.

Description of portfolio:

This portfolio contains ten examples of a new weekly column for the Financial Times that now extends to 25 (and counting) individual articles. These cover a range of topics, including (but not limited to) politics, health, sport and economics. Geographical coverage is broad. Often focusing on US and UK, but using international comparisons wherever possible. One column as its premise highlighted the lack of data in China.

Though each column addresses a different topic, they share many attributes:

* Original data sourced using techniques old and new: an extensive contacts network and scrapers using R and node.js.
* Narrative visuals designed to carry the main thrust of the column. Not only do these work in the context of the column but they are sufficiently ‘standalone’ to help promote and share the work on social media. I continue to use R, d3.js and Adobe Illustrator, among a suite of tools, to produce responsive graphics
* Text written in a way that weaves the graphics together. It is clear from the structure of my articles that the graphics and copy have been conceived in tandem rather than in a traditional linear op-ed text-first approach.
* The column appears both online and in print. Uniquely, I am perhaps the only opinion journalist who produces their own print-ready graphics on a weekly basis!

Project links: