2021 Shortlist

Süddeutsche Zeitung

Country/area: Germany

Organisation: Süddeutsche Zeitung

Organisation size: Big

Dear Sigma Awards Team,

we are submitting a portfolio on behalf of the Data Team at Süddeutsche Zeitung. The portfolio consists of major projects we did on the Coronavirus pandemic. As for every journalist, this has been a challenging year for us, but also an exciting one. We feel that we could really make a difference, as we tried to help our readership making sense of what’s going on. The virus is invisible to the naked eye, so looking at the numbers is the best way to figure out where we are and what might come next.

Süddeutsche Zeitung is the leading daily quality newspaper in Germany. Founded 1945 and based in Munich, we offer reporting, analysis and opinion for a national audience. Editorial stuff is 400+ people, with bureaus in Berlin, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf, Leipzig, Hamburg and Stuttgart, plus correspondents in major capitals around the world.

The Data Team was established in 2018 to focus on data-driven reporting across all topics, with strong ties to the investigations team. Members of our team worked on the Panama Papers, and we collected several prices for our work. In our understanding, data journalism is foremost journalism – our goal is to tell stories, to explain complex matters, to uncover injustice and corruption. Our means are data, code, web scraping, statistics, numerical language processing, network analysis.

We try to learn constantly. Exchanging ideas, sharing knowledge and teaching each other are important pillars of our philosophy. Towards our readers, we try to be as transparent as we can be – publishing detailed descriptions of our methodology, source code and raw data wherever possible.

One challenge in 2020 was that our team lead, Vanessa Wormer, left the company in summer, and we had to re-organise. Currently, the team consists of Sabrina Ebitsch and Christian Endt (team lead), Martina Schories, Benedict Witzenberger, Sören Müller-Hansen and Berit Kruse. We report to Wolfgang Jaschensky, head of Editorial R&D, who is an important mentor, established the team and hired most of us. We work closely together with graphic designers, developers and science reporters, who also contributed to the submitted stories.

Description of portfolio:

Our coverage of the Coronavirus started with “The Force of the Big Number”, an interactive in which we explained the danger of exponential growth and made clear how quickly a pandemic can get out of control. The story was published in mid-March, before any major restrictions there put in place in Germany. The story reached more than 2 million readers and is one of the most successful pieces in the history of Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Soon afterwards, we launched our Coronavirus Dashboard, which has been a part of our homepage www.sueddeutsche.de ever since, and has also been adapted to a big, daily graphic in the print edition. As first newsroom in Germany, we used the concept of doubling time to report the growth of case numbers in different areas and countries. This concept was soon adapted by other major outlets, our numbers were quoted in the main evening news program on national tv.

At several stages of the pandemic, we wrote long, in-depth pieces on Germany’s situation in the pandemic: Where are we right now, where are we heading, what are the scenarios and options? All of these stories were data-driven, based on modelling and extensive interviews with many scientists. These stories rely heavily on animated, interactive visual elements.

“The Long Road Through the Pandemic” was published at the beginning of the first wave in Germany. The lockdown light was still new and the impression prevailed that it was only necessary to reduce the number of new infections for a short time in order to end the pandemic. Our research and calculations based on epidemiological models showed that this was a fallacy, that the pandemic could last for a very long time. The article met with great interest among our readership; never before has the Süddeutsche Zeitung been able to attract such a large number of subscribers via a single piece.

In one visual essay, we reflect on the difficulty to make decisions based on imperfect data with lots of limitations, and try to show a way of dealing with that situation of uncertainty.

Other pieces in our portfolio focus on fatality rates, excess mortality, and airborne spreading in indoor environments, and how to have a safe christmas in 2020.

Why we don’t provide translations:

Our articles build heavily on visuals and interactive storytelling. Therefore we can`t just put the text into a PDF. What works best is using Google Translate via the add-on in your browser.

Project links: