2023 Shortlist

The Times and The Sunday Times Data Team

Entry type: Portfolio

Country/area: United Kingdom

Publishing organisation: The Times and The Sunday Times

Organisation size: Big

Cover letter:

The Times and The Sunday Times are two of the oldest newsbrands in the world, boasting about 437 years of journalistic history between them. Data has been a feature of our reporting for most of those years: back in 1860, The Sunday Times devoted most of a page to a grim yet fascinating chart from an insurance company, on the ages at which people in Britain were expected to die.

Data has been part of our journalism for many decades – but in the past three years, it has become crucial to our reporting of the very biggest stories. The breadth of our portfolio bears witness to this, as does the strength of our data team. Now 10-strong, and made up of developers, reporters, designers and talented graduates, we cover everything from contextualising breaking news, to vital investigative journalism.

We’ve shown that data-led and visual techniques can be turned to any topic. Covid and the Ukraine war have been important focuses for us this year – but the team has used clever and insightful visualisation techniques to explore everything from Eurovision to Formula 1. At the centre of our data journalism is the reader: how we help them to comprehend a topic, understand the truth behind a story, reassure or warn them about the future, or see where they fit into the wider context. This approach pays off: our journalism is frequently among the best-engaged of any other pieces on the site.

While change at two two-centuries’ old newspapers can be a slow process, The Times and The Sunday Times are gaining a well-deserved reputation for concise, clear and timely data journalism.

Description of portfolio:

Collaboration is key to our work. The team projects below have relied on a network of talented developers working to challenging deadlines, visualisation experts, and some of the best journalists in the country working in every field from health to sport, war reporting to climate science.

Helping our readers contextualise the Ukraine war was a challenge, particularly given unreliable data from both sides. In March we sought to explain why so many Russian soldiers were dying in Ukraine, and suggested it could be down to the size of the populations they were trying to subdue compared to the number of Russian troops. We also used scrollytelling to show how the present rate of attrition – worse than some of the 20th century’s bloodiest wars – was unsustainable. This piece had an average dwell-time of nearly seven-minutes, exceptional for a piece of its length and indicative of how visually engaging our readers found the storytelling.

In our reconstruction piece of the siege of Mariupol, we aimed to walk the reader through what happened, placing them at the location and recreating the destruction of the theatre by bringing together satellite maps, photography from the ground, drone video footage and case studies from those in the city. We used OpenStreetMap to build a 3D building layer of the city, and OSINT techniques to pinpoint key events and photographs.

From war to peace, our data journalism was utilised on a range of different topics in 2022 – including the Eurovision Song Contest. Our anallysis used Spotify’s API to log the attributes behind the most successful Eurovision songs of all time – and give countries a hint as to who might win. We used a combination of React components and Datawrapper charts to present the findings in an innovative and engaging way – including a few Times data team firsts, like what we can only term a “piano” chart.

Last year was an outlier for a variety of different reasons, not least climate records, shattered in Britain and beyond. Our analysis allowed readers to learn where, why and how the UK recorded its hottest day on record, and what it meant for our warming nation. Readers told us that they loved playing with the interactive map sliders which showed – in no uncertain terms – how recent droughts had turned our countryside yellow.

We have also used data to track some of the seismic political shifts that are happening in the UK. We used fresh polling data to see whether a United Ireland was indeed a likely prospect, as some forecasters have suggested after Sinn Fein became the largest party in Northern Ireland. Our subsequent work on the topic – including polling on young peoples’ awareness of the Troubles – dominated the Irish news agenda for several weeks afterwards.

Some of our slickest visual work tracked the most unusual topics: our depiction of the changes to F1 cars for the 2022 season involved the creation of a scrollytelling component to animate a 3D model, which has been reused for a variety of different uses since.

Our data journalism has also been used as the centrepiece to a number of key investigations in 2022. We used R to analyse more than 11,000 messages on the social media site Telegram, and found that antivaxxers were directing horrific abuse at health workers. At the end of the year, we turned our attention to the dire state of cancer care in Britain after the pandemic. We found that the average wait for cancer treatment had gone from 47 days in 2019, to 55 – which could make the difference between living or dying – resulting in an agenda-setting front-page story.

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