Organisation: The Straits Times
Organisation size: Big
I am the leading journalist for The Straits Times digital graphics team and the newsroom advocate for data storytelling. I have worked with the team for more than five years and dedicate my time to developing new and creative ways to tell news stories.
My goal is to go beyond just using data in my stories, something I have been passionate about for the last eight years. I want to bring back humanity and emotion into my data storytelling.
Covid-19 has forced us to reflect deeply on our data reporting methods. As our audience demanded more real-time data and analysis, it was ever present in my mind the need to humanise the data because every number represents real people who are suffering. Delicately balancing objective data reporting with memorable and emotional visual content is an ongoing dream for me. My mentor and editor, Xaquin Gonzalez Veira has said:
“This year’s COVID-19 epidemic was a difficult test for data journalists. Early in the pandemic, Rebecca showed impressive reflexes as she quickly established the paper’s data guidelines and sources. She also led the Data and Visual coverage with stories like “Slowing the spread in Asia ’ or ‘ How the world lost 1 million lives to Covid-19 ’. Besides. pitching, reporting, writing, and conceiving the visuals, she also coordinated the designers and developers —while working remotely, a testament to her abilities.”
I have also crafted the workflow from the pitching process through to post-publication reports for our team which help us analyse what went well and what could have been done better for each project. This has led to an improved feedback loop so we can all learn from past mistakes – and wins too.
Over the past year, I have also taken much joy in mentoring interns. They all remain in contact and have communicated to me their shift towards more data-driven journalism as a direct result of working with our team and under my guidance.
I have conducted data workshops for the newsroom and universities and I am currently undertaking my own Masters in visual tools with the University of Girona to finally take my first steps into coding and sharpen my creative side.
I have not entered my own portfolio before but 2020 was a year filled with big news and was an important one for data storytelling “with empathy”, something I think I’m acutely aware of.
Description of portfolio:
My main skills rely on data reporting and data storytelling. I also used organisational skills to co-ordinate the immense efforts of producing daily-updated graphics for Covid-19, GE2020 and even the US elections.
I practice integrated visual journalism so it is crucial to work with all the visuals and text elements at the same time when constructing the pieces so that the story can seamlessly flow from beginning to end. I focus most of my energy on the top 25 per cent of all my stories, the “above-the-fold” for digital pieces, as this is where the majority of readers focus runs out. The rest of the story is usually littered with rewards or ‘easter eggs’ for the readers who have stuck with it and are more likely to read through to the end.
My portfolio is data-driven with a focus on getting across the ‘right’ message that is sensitive and empathetic.
These projects are a sign of progressive improvement. Every project I do, I look back on and would change a million things. I hope it can be seen that my work is still in development and, perhaps positively, I’d like to think, always will be. I evolve with each project I do, hoping to further use data to contextualise human stories.
For the last project of 2020 that takes a look back at one year of Covid-19, my hope was to leave a strong message against the many naysayers of movement restriction measures but to also highlight the incredible intricacy of these measures for people who come from a lower socio-economic background. Living in Singapore, we are highly poised to raise the voices of our neighbouring countries who might be doing poorly with stay-at-home or social distancing measures.
Also, for politically difficult topics, we are able to use data in a way that addresses issues, for example the historical boundaries story dealt with gerrymandering in Singapore, in an objective yet beautiful way.