Project description

I am a Senior Data Journalist at The Telegraph and a visiting lecturer in data journalism at City University London. Over the last year, I have helped to innovate how The Telegraph communicates data-led stories to our engaged audience of subscribers as well as our wider community. The Data Journalism team is now an integral part of the newsroom, with myself – along with other data journalists – integrated with subject desks and collaborating on innovative, data-driven projects. I have also played an integral role in delivering The Telegraph’s new subscription strategy, using data journalism methods to help guarantee a sustainable funding model for publications.
My work mainly falls into three categories: innovative special projects, exclusive news reporting or personalised or interactive content for subscribed users. All three of these usually involve ideas creation, sourcing and scraping data, cleaning datasets, analysing statistics and communicating findings through text, graphics or interactive visualisation. This has meant that I have been involved in some groundbreaking visual storytelling – on subjects as varied as the FIFA World Cup and violent crime – in my effort to make data more relevant, engaging and interesting for Telegraph readers. This year has also seen me deliver more exclusive news stories than ever before, producing splashes and page leads with data revealed through investigative processes like freedom of information and targeted scraping.
With The Telegraph’s new subscriptions strategy, data journalism proved essential in providing highly personalised, quality online journalism that would persuade people to join our community. Over the first two months of The Telegraph’s subscription strategy, I was one of the top authors for delivering subscriptions. My articles had gained hundreds of subscriptions since the publication’s new strategy launch, with a combination of exclusive news reports and innovative visual storytelling proving how myself and my wider team are able to quickly adapt to new business strategies. Through interactive tools which personalise stories based on a reader’s demographic or geographic details, I have been able to contribute to plans to retain and strengthen our core audience of subscribers by using data visualisation that engage them on an individual, personal basis. This can be seen in projects such as the World Cup forecasting game as well as the interactive which allows readers to see how inconsistent crime solving rates in the UK affect them specifically.

What makes this project innovative?

I have played a part in over 100 high-quality data-led Telegraph stories over the last year, using and developing a variety of tools to tell new stories in fresh visual ways. This work has helped contribute to a true Telegraph innovation this year: the way we have changed our data journalism approach to support the publication’s subscription strategy. For example, I have enriched stories through personalised premium (paywalled) embeds that have added a layer of detail only available to those who are logged-in. I have experimented with different paywall strategies to good effect, attracting praise from the wider industry. For example, others in the data journalism community commented on how our Manchester City piece was the first project they’d seen to experiment with combining registration walls with the scrollytelling format. I have played a crucial role in my team’s innovations to enrich and expand The Telegraph’s subscriber community. I’ve delivered exclusive investigations through dozens of targeted freedom of information requests, such as a story revealing that every British police force had seen response times increase in the last three years. This produced a newspaper page lead as well as a visually-led article for the website. The visualisation, with a colour scheme reflecting gradually increasing target times, was commended by visualisation expert Andy Kirk. Such stories have been enhanced through interactives, such as one showing the proportion of crimes ending in no suspect being identified. Subscribed users could see how the story impacted them personally, inputting their postcode and seeing how often their own local police force hit a dead end. Further innovations have taken place in special projects. To set ourselves apart in our World Cup coverage, we produced an interactive game which allowed readers to pick what they believed were the most important factors in deciding a football match, and then played out every game based on these weightings to decide who had the best chance of winning. This was innovative as we put the controls in the hands of the user. Rather than force our perspective onto our community, we opened up the data and allowed them to decide what was the most important factor in football. The metrics proved this worked, with a high engagement time and each user running the simulation, on average, more than one time. Such innovative projects - which encouraged users to register to use the game - meant that I was one of the most subscribed-to Telegraph authors last year.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

Senior editors now regularly commission stories from myself and the team, as they know they will get quality stories or projects - whether that involves exclusive news lines, aesthetically pleasing visuals or innovative interactive projects. My stories regularly gain engagement times that are double the website average, achieving over a couple of minutes in average engagement time, and help engage both new and existing subscribers, and draw in our most engaged, registered users in my effort to personalise stories. Our World Cup winners simulation game was among The Telegraph’s top five stories for registrations for the World Cup, a significant achievement for a new form of experimentation for us. My stories often lead both The Telegraph’s website and newspaper. In print, freedom of information-led stories such as “Soaring numbers of patients sent home from hospital at night" have made major page leads in The Telegraph newspaper, demonstrating how we have helped make data journalism a driving force for news reporting. Such print pieces inevitably make solid, graphics-led news reports online as well, usually gaining thousands of subscriber views and high dwell times from our engaged community. Such metrics have proved that my move to produce more data-led exclusive reports this year have helped engage our core audience, as they not only gain good space in the newspaper but also engage our core audience for average engagement times of over one or two minutes online. Over the past year, The Telegraph’s business model has evolved from registration to subscription first approach becoming our key business priority. This is something we have paid a lot of attention to and have made sure that data-driven stories perform well in this regard by adding value. An example of this is when I collaborated with the wider team to create a scrollytelling piece, which uses visualisation and animation to tell the chronological story of how Manchester City became the record-breaking Premier League winners. The idea behind the visualisation was that, through scrolling, it continually compares Manchester City against other historic winners that football fans remember, in order to contextualise crucial moments in the title race that allowed them to gain the highest number of points for any winner. The piece had a higher than average engagement time as readers took time to scroll through to complete the chronological, visually-compelling story. My data journalism work has contributed to the success of the organisation’s wider subscriptions strategy. While others have struggled to make paywalls work, we have grown the number of registered users - repeat, signed-in readers - by more than 350% YoY. With our Premium subscriptions enjoying YoY growth of 55%, this model supports a commercially viable future.

Source and methodology

I use data from a range of different sources, ranging in size from 10 to 10 million data points. These can be official government publications, data releases from other organisations (e.g. polling companies), but can also be self-created through investigative methods such as scraping or freedom of information requests. The projects listed in this submission have sources ranging from the ONS, the UK's statistical authority, to the Barclays Premier League, from WaterAid to hundreds of NHS trusts across the UK. Once the data is sourced, it is then cross-referenced in order to verify its accuracy and credibility. This year I have worked on improving my output of exclusive news reports for both print and online, utilising freedom of information laws to uncover new data. For example, using Freedom of Information requests at a national level alongside interviews, we were able to build a dataset which revealed that over-stretched UK hospitals were being forced to send home increasing numbers in the middle of the night. This was a challenging piece as I had to wrangle together 150 inconsistent freedom of information responses, but data cleaning processes help this and the result was rewarding. My analyses are often simple statistical exercises (usually in R - but Excel and Google Sheets are great too) but can become more complex. In the past year I have used processes such as linear modelling to come up with stories. For example, our World Cup forecasting game used team and player performance data to create a linear model for predicting the tournament. Throughout my work, transparency is essential. I always link out to my data sources, and when necessary, the Data Journalism team explains the methodology of the particular piece in question.

Technologies Used

R, OutWit Hub, Open Refine, Microsoft Office, Google Docs are used for sourcing and analysing our data. While many day-to-day tasks can be performed adequately with Microsoft Excel, I also use templated R scripts to repeat analysis and visualisation tasks. The team has developed a custom theme in R’s ggplot package to allow us to create Telegraph-styled charts at speed for breaking news stories and our CMS now displays mobile responsive versions of our graphics at different page widths. This has allowed our workflow to be far more efficient. JavaScript, QGIS, HTML/CSS and the Adobe Suite are some of the other tools used for visualisation. QGIS is used to map out geographical data while R will be used to lay out charts. Once these are outlined I will style the SVGs in the Adobe Suite. HTML/CSS, Javascript and D3 are relied upon for making more complex projects come to life. All of these visuals are then uploaded to The Telegraph’s Particle CMS, making them visible, accessible and reusable for all the newsroom’s journalists. Through this process, I also ensure that my visualisations are mobile responsive, with different versions showing on different platforms in order to give my readers the best possible experience.

Project members

Data Journalism, News, Graphics, Development and New Formats teams at the Telegraph

Link

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