Wouter van Dijke (Young Talent prize)

Country/area: Netherlands

Organisation: RTL Nieuws

Organisation size: Big

Cover letter:

I am a data journalist, teacher and trainer from The Netherlands, on a mission to spread enthusiasm for telling stories with data. Despite my young age, I am making my mark on data journalism in my country, through my own work and by empowering others to learn data journalism skills.

I don’t have a typical journalism background: I studied biology at university. But even then, I knew I wanted to be a journalist. I volunteered at a magazine for LGBTQ youth, where I eventually became editor-in-chief. After finishing my degree, I decided to follow a postgraduate course in International Journalism at City University in London.

There, I noticed that having a different background from other journalists was not a disadvantage but a perk: having studied in a scientific field, I knew about statistics, doing research and working data, for instance using R – skills that are extremely useful for telling news stories as well!

For the past five years, I have worked as a journalist, specializing in telling stories with data. I currently work at RTL Nieuws, a national television news programme, where I write online news articles. The target audience for RTL Nieuws is very broad. This is a challenge, especially for a data journalist, because many people are not immediately interested in data or numbers. I learned that I always need to find ways to make the data relevant, interesting and useful to my readers, because everyone is interested in stories that affect them on a personal level.

I do this by creating visualisations that are easy to understand, by explaining complex stories clearly, and by creating interactive tools that enable readers to find the information that is most important to them.

Back in 2020, I was the first in my country to create a dashboard showing daily coronavirus statistics, even before this data was easily available from official sources.

I’m always looking to innovate and create new ways to explore data and tell the stories within. For example, I helped create an editorial ‘robot’ which can generate local news articles from large datasets. This year, we used it to create hundreds of local stories about the parliamentary elections results, available within minutes of the results being announced.

I also like to experiment with new ways of storytelling. For a story about poverty, and the hard choices people with a low income need to make in the festive December month, I created a news game, where readers could see the dilemmas and gain an insight into the experiences of these people.

Since the summer of 2020, I also work at the School of Journalism at the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences, where I teach several courses about data journalism, as well as fact checking and social media.

Through my teaching, I try to inspire the next generation of journalists to better comprehend data, and make data journalism a tool that every journalist can use.

I want to dispel the myth that ‘journalists simply aren’t good with numbers’. I believe that in the modern world, every journalist should have basic knowledge of working with data, and be able to use data to tell stories.

It’s not always an easy mission, and of course not everyone will learn to love data. But there are great moments of seeing students or colleagues surprised by their own skills, or enthusiastically inspired by the many questions and stories that arise when looking at an interesting data set. In those moments, my mission is (at least a little bit) accomplished

Description of portfolio:

Link 1: Covering national elections on a local level using real time automatically generated articles (translated pdf file)

We used our editorial ‘robot’ ADAM (Automatic Data Article Machine), that I have helped develop back in 2019, to cover the national parliamentary elections in real time, on a local level. We dynamically generated news stories about the election results for all 355 municipalities in the Netherlands. Every time the results for a municipality were announced, an article was published within minutes.

For this project I helped write the article templates, handled the real time data processing flow and created all graphs and charts

Link 2: Example of an article generated for the project mentioned above (translated pdf file)

Each article was unique and included charts and graphs. In every story, local results were analysed and compared to previous elections and national averages. 

Link 3: Showing the effects of covid vaccines through one simple graph (untranslated to preserve interactivity)

This story is proof of the power a simple data visualisation can have. In one glance, it’s easy to see the profound effect covid vaccinations have in preventing hospital and intensive care admissions. I was the first to create a graph like this using the actual data from The Netherlands, and the image was seen by millions on our website and on social media.

Link 4: Telling the story of poverty through a news game (untranslated to preserve interactivity)

Families that are struggling to get by face excruciating dilemmas each month. But in December, because of the holidays, these hard choices are extra painful. How do you choose between making necessary repairs, saving money or buying christmas gifts for your children? 
Sadly, this is reality for hundreds of thousands of families. To get across their lived experience to our readers, I created a news game, where readers were presented with some of these hard choices, and had to find out whether they were able to make ends meet.

Link 5: How much will your energy bill increase? (Interactive tool, untranslated to preserve interactivity)

In July, power companies were allowed to raise their prices, and many people without fixed contracts would face steep increases. Using power consumption data for different types of families and different living situations, I created an interactive tool where readers could estimate how much higher their energy bill would be.

Link 6: Dutch covid situation compared to other countries in Europe (untranslated to preserve interactivity)

I compared the available coronavirus data from the European Centres of Disease Control for 350 regions in the European Union, to find out how The Netherlands compares to our neighbouring countries. I told the story through a number of clear visualisations, including an animated map and graphs.

Link 7: Can you recognize the birds in your backyard? (Quiz, untranslated to preserve interactivity)

Data stories and interactives don’t always have to be complex or serious: using a quiz can be a great way to make a story more relevant and interesting for readers. In this case, I wrote a story about common birds and the lack of species knowledge many people have. The story contains a quiz about some of the most common birds readers might see in their backyards. 

Project links: