The 2020 Malaysian federal budget

Category: Best visualization (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Malaysia

Organisation: Malaysiakini

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 10 Nov 2019

Credit: Lee Long Hui, Sean Ho, Nigel Aw, Koh Aun Qi, Aidila Razak, Syariman Badrulzaman, Wahyudi Mohd Yunus, Thiaga Raj Servai, Ng Xiang Yi

Project description:

The Budget 2020 microsite consists of three components; an infographic, a quiz and a poll. 

The goal was to convey massive information of the Malaysian federal budget in a simple, comprehensible, timely and personalised manner.

The infographic gives an overview of the budget by visualising the big numbers with different charts along with explanations.

The quiz is to help Malaysians understand how they are impacted by the latest federal budget with personalised information by answering some questions.

The poll component allowed readers to share how they felt about key announcements in the budget.

Impact reached:

The Budget 2020 microsite was received well by the public. In the first two days after it was launched, the microsite received more than 92 thousand unique page views with an average time of 3 minutes and 57 seconds. Within a week, the microsite received 168 thousand unique visitors in total.

The budget quiz poll also served as a springboard for public discussion of the 2020 federal budget, with readers debating the pros and cons of each new policy when we shared the poll results on social media. There were more than 231 thousand people participated in the poll.

It was the second time for Malaysiakini to build a microsite for the budget and we started to see a trend for it as other Malaysian newsrooms, such as The Star and Nanyang Siang Pau [1][2][3] to produce similar works. In other words, it has created an impact in the Malaysian news industry to produce more data and visual-driven interacitve journalism work. 

Techniques/technologies used:

We used HTML, CSS and JavaScript, React, Google Firebase, amCharts and D3 to create the microsite.

For the infographic, we used data visualisation JavaScript library amCharts and D3 to render the charts and tables.

Generating charts and tables with JavaScript libraries, without relying on any third-party tool, was particularly useful for a multi-language news portal like Malaysiakini. Once the JavaScript files are properly written, we only need to modify the data once and the outcome will be shown for three languages.

We wrote a dedicated JavaScript script for the quiz. We store the data (the questions and answers) in a separate JSON file. Each object in the JSON file contains a question, the choices, the answers, and most importantly, an id.

The script allows us to show a question for our readers based on the previous answers to the previous question. It was done by identifying the id of the questions. The purpose of it is to make the answers to be more personalised.

For example, if a reader answer that she is a woman in a question, the next questions will be some policies or announcements from the budget that related to her gender.

The poll was created with React library to make sure that it has a faster loading speed, especially when drawing the polling result from Google Firebase. Using Google Firebase also prevent us from dealing with the issue of spam votes.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The hardest part of this project is to launch the project in the interest of time. The public’s attention span on the budget announcement could be very short, so our aim was to publish it within the same day when the budget was announced before our readers losing their interest in it.

It was quite challenging because the budget was announced by the Malaysian finance minister in the parliament at 4pm. His speech took about 2 hours to finish, which left us about 6 hours before 12 midnight to process the speech that contains more than 10,000 words, extract the salient points, write them in a personalised quiz and poll format, then test and retest the quiz and poll, and create charts for the infographic, then translated all of them from English to Malay and Chinese version.

Luckily, we have done much of the work for the infographic a day before as most of the data is obtained from the economic outlook report that was released two days before. However, it was not the same for the quiz and poll because this could only be done after the speech was delivered in the Parliament.

Furthermore, with the experience of producing similar works for last year’s budget, we had better planning and workflow to avoid any unnecessary mistakes which happened in 2019.

Having said that, we still suffer from a technical issue as our server crashed at midnight, just minutes before the quiz and poll were launched. As a result, the release of the poll and quiz were delayed for three hours.

Another challenge is the ability in explaining the big numbers in the budget in a simple, comprehensible, timely and personalised manner. To achieve that, we decided to use simple charts to present the data.

What can others learn from this project?

Data journalism and visualisation often take time, but for this project, we managed to come out with three different products within a short period of time. 

Thus, we think that the key aspect that others can learn from us is how to produce a data-driven project with the mentality of producing breaking news.

We cannot stress enough that project management plays an important role to ensure that it was a success. We had planned and prepared for the execution two months ahead.

Most importantly, we hope to inspire more newsrooms, especially the newsrooms in Malaysia, to flourish by working on more data-driven visual storytelling.

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