Tagesspiegel collaboration brings months-long investigation together in one scrolly

By Helena Wittlich

Der Tagesspiegel

Berlin, Germany


In their professional life, every journalist encounters a point in an investigation where there’s too much to tell and just not enough space for the whole story. Faced with this challenge during The Gun Mania and Us: European Weapons, American Victims, we at Tagesspiegel decided on a creative approach. We created a data-driven scrolly that introduces the topic and underscores the investigation’s importance.

The scrolly became the centrepiece of the collaboration between Germany news company Tagesspiegel and the national public broadcaster ZDF.

How it began

It was one of the many U.S. school shootings that usually go mainly unnoticed in Europe. Yet, U.S. author Lauren Hough highlighted on Twitter that she could not bear the condescension of the Europeans while European firearms companies were making so much money.

Of course, we had repeatedly written about the massacre at Sandy Hook and the attacks in Miami and Las Vegas, but what about the role of the European arms industry? Nothing.

The collaborative project looked at the mass school shootings in the U.S. and showed the role of European gun manufacturers.
The collaborative project looked at the mass school shootings in the U.S. and showed the role of European gun manufacturers.

Once we began the investigation, it soon became clear that the scope of the research would far exceed a standard Tagesspiegel dossier. If we wanted to cover European profiteers, American victims, and cultural, economic, and political dimensions, we would need more time, more resources, and, crucially, more attention.

Through our network, we contacted the editors of the most important German late-night show, ZDF Magazin Royal by Jan Böhmermann. Its editorial team had repeatedly shown how to handle sensitive and research-intensive stories and present them on a larger scale.

Within a short time, we were able to establish joint working structures with the ZDF Magazin Royal team to share and coordinate tasks and support each other’s research.

A scrolly brings it together

Three weeks before launch, we had lots of research and data but lacked a clear data analysis to tie the results together. At this point, the initial team of reporters from Tagesspiegel and ZDF came together with the Tagesspiegel Innovation Lab, which focuses on data-driven investigations and visual storytelling.

The challenge: How can we create a digital storytelling method for this investigation? How can we prove the main arguments with data? And how can we visualise all of that?

The lab, in collaboration with the research and fact-checking department, dove deep into archives and data sources with one goal: Can data not only highlight the different aspects of the story, but might visualisations be an option to bring it all together?

Indeed, they could! We created a scrolly consisting purely of data visualisations, needing almost no text but acting as a narrative frame for the different chapters of the investigation. The chapters can be found after the scrolly as a Netflix-style list of episodes. Each visualisation within the scrolly acts as the ground truth for a single chapter.

Visualisations looked at gun production for individual manufacturers.
Visualisations looked at gun production for individual manufacturers.

The advantages of a multimedia collaboration

One idea evolved into a multi-channel project, presenting many aspects in different ways — short through data, in detail through long reports, personal accounts, on-the-ground reporting, and being somewhat satirically funny through ZDF Magazin Royal.

This diversity gave the story the chance to reach a broad audience. The scrolly itself, with all the episodes, had more than 200,000 pageviews and generated around 100 new subscriptions; the Instagram reels had more than 60,000 views on the Tagesspiegel account alone, and the video of the TV show on YouTube got 1.8 million views, not including those from the official media library.

Overall, The Gun Mania and Us: European Weapons, American Victims once more showed how crucial collaborations are for a successful story. Collaborations within one organisation, especially those between data, design, and editorial groups, are beneficial. That led us to a great and creative outcome with a strong visual message and convincing storytelling.

About Helena Wittlich

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