3 ways BBC uses data journalism to increase reader engagement

Visual and data journalism is changing the craft of reporting for media companies throughout Europe.

Amanda Farnsworth, editor of visual Journalism at BBC News, discussed with delegates at the INMA European Conference on Thursday how the BBC brought journalists from TV and online together, the role of visual journalism for audiences, and how the BBC is doing data journalism. 

According to Farnsworth visual journalism is used to engage and inform audiences. Audience challenges are:

  1. Distinctiveness: Stand out from the crowd; for example, the BBC’s Great British class calculator initiative, a calculator to determine your class.

    BBC makes this relevant to many people, which is important because it shows the power of cross platforms, it as some “personal relevance” data projects, and it enable users to share a key fact to boost reach. People just share their answers on Twitter.

  2. Liveliness and modernity: Keep the news from being too old-fashioned. BBC designed a story about deep sea mining in modern, interactive way way. Similarly, its multi-media story, “How to put a human on Mars,” allows people to see how they can get to Mars and what they need to do there.

    The question is how to make a story bigger than just a television story so people can get additional information about one specific situation or phenomenon. BBC tries to take the feedback and try to make it interact between the readers.

  3. Understanding: Give people charts so they can get an overview of the current situation. BBC also takes advantage of mobile, knowing that during weekdays there is more traffic online, but mobile overtakes PCs on weekends. 

It is important to visualise Big Data so readers can understand it and create charts so people can find the numbers unique to the area where they live and covering what they are interested in, Farnsworth said. 

She listed these key principles of data journalism in BBC: 

  • Have a week or two research where you explore the data before committing resources to the project is unsure. 

  • When combining data sets, make sure they work together. 

  • A global data set will be relevant to more users and will get more traffic.

  • Have good data sources: governments, businesses, universities.

BBC started experimenting with a daily infographic, Farnsworth said, taking key figures from the story and putting it in pictures. This brings much higher click-through rate, as people are curious to read more from the story. 

About Marek Miller and Mariell Raisma

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