Project description

DataLEADS is a data-driven Indian digital media initiative aimed to create new platforms of data research and storytelling. It is devoted to spread ideas and insights in the form of data visualisation and reporting. We present data visually to give unique insight and uncover patterns and observations that wouldn\’t be apparent from looking at stats alone. Backed by some of India’s best computer-assisted data specialists, journalists, public records experts, fact-checkers and economists, our team conducts data-driven reporting, research, data boot camps and training workshops.

DataLEADS provides editorial and content support to Asia News Network—a network of leading 22 English newspapers from 22 Asian countries. The network was established in 1999 with members from across Asia with a combined circulation of 14 million and a readership of more than 50 million. The aim was to establish a cross cultural influx of news and support journalism and varied media practices in Asia.

DataLEADS manages the editorial desk of ANN in New Delhi, India. It was a challenge to build a data visualization editorial strategy for diverse legacy media network such as Asia News Network (ANN) which is a coalition of 22 leading news organisations from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia and reaches millions of people across Asia.

Building a common data story platform for the network was quite a challenge as the network has diverse members. Some member newspaper are big papers like Dawn in Pakistan, Statesman in India, Straits Times in Singapore and China Daily in China. Other network members such Kuensel in Bhutan, Borneo Bulletin in Brunei and Vientiane Times in Loas are still modest in terms of their set up. It was a challenge to use and adopt a format which would be suitable for every member newspaper of the network. We developed a modest but innovative platform where we picked most recent data from different open sources and covered stories with Pan-Asia focus. It was a quite a challenge to collect and analyse the data and our team used a broad network to identify relevant data for vizualizatiomn. We take the most compelling issues of the week across Asia and use data to make them easy, relevant and insightful. The thematic spectrum of our weekly data stories is quite varied. We take data related to politics, economics, culture, business and sports and turn that into an interesting infograph to bring forward the insights not readily available in conventional modes of narration. While we are cognizant of the power of data and the alternative landscape it creates we also substantiate our data with the story in order to make the narrative more accessible. The concept of putting together an infograph and a story or the data story telling method is the product of the realization that while numbers can tell a story very differently and offer a novel and nuanced perspective about an issue, the story along with it can contribute to the impact in terms of making it easy to process and engage with. We have contributed 127 data stories to the network till now. In terms of the themes and subjects that we have chosen we have mostly been aware of using data that has the most regional resonance and finds a wider audience in terms of the relevance and the readability as well.

We were also clear about the capacity of different newspapers in terms of adopting in different visualization format. Therefore, we used open source tools like InDesign and illustrator to visualize data to shed light on important public interest stories like gender disparity, widespread poverty, air pollution and access to healthcare in Asian countries. We displayed data in simple and static format like jpeg and png so that our member newspapers can both easily use and publish the stories in the print form and also use them in their digital version and social media. We started weekly data visualization stories from October 2016 and the stories have reached millions of readers across Asia via the broad network of ANN.

What makes this project innovative?

The project is unique in terms of being a novel initiative and first of its kind on Asia News Network. While conventional news networks in Asia still focus on narratives through the written word, our data stories have infused a new energy into the network. The news reporting and storytelling within the media is experiencing a significant shift through data visualization and analytics our data stories have ensured that kind of shift in the network. The second unique aspect of our data stories is that our subject is pan-Asia. We cater to all the 22 member countries of the network by way of choosing a subject that speaks equally to all the members.

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

The impact of our data stories is measured by the reach of our stories. Since the network has a readership of millions of people our weekly stories get published in the leading newspapers across 22 Asian countries and on other online websites. We realize while data visualization and data analytics is fast catching up there are certain regions where it is still making inroads. Our data stories reach countries like Bhutan and Monglia where such media practices have not yet taken off significantly. The evidence of the success and impact of our data stories can also be gauged by the visibility it has created for us. DataLEADS has been acknowledged for its work in data and storytelling and has been approached by various newsrooms and organizations to conduct boot camps on data. Our data stories have inspired newsrooms and journalists to undertake similar kind of work and tell stories through data. Apart from republishing our data stories and infographics in their own new papers, ANN members have taken cues from our work and started similar kind of projects in their own organizations. One of our members The Daily Star from Bangladesh were inspired from our data story telling method and started a similar way of storytelling through visualization in their e-paper.

Source and methodology

We rely on open data sources. We analyse government reports, Asian Development Bank reports, United Nations reports, Index reports by various organizations including World Health Organization reports and World Bank reports. We also collect data from individual Asian governments, different ministries and data collecting centers and institutes. In the process we were able to collect important data which was storied in solos. This is a major exercise to archive Asian data into easy to understand graphics. We cover a range of issues from poverty to health to climate change and political issues through data-driven analytical stories. Our methodology includes mining the raw data, cleaning it, arranging data in excel sheets and making different data sets from the huge amount of raw data to select the most relevant set for visualization. Our data-stories thrive on a single idea of how to make complex data into easy to understand narrative for a huge audience base residing in 23 Asian countries. This makes our work complex but the output helps people understand where their country stands on equality rights, women empowerment, powerful passports, economic well-being or defence deals across borders. This idea of story-telling is not unique but the idea of telling a story for a wide range of Asian audience is so unique that most member newspapers pick these stories every week and they are published across Asia as it gives them a real picture of where they stand as compared to their neighbours.

Technologies Used

Our editorial plan is dependent on our awareness that these infographs get mostly printed in the newspapers. As the data is raw, we use Tabula and Table Capture to extract and obtain data from pdf files and HTML tables. We use Microsoft Excel sheets extensively to clean, arrange and understand data patterns. Further, we use Indesign, Photoshop and illustrator to design and picturise data into infographics. These tools help us in putting huge data sets and not so easy to understand data into context. These stories are shared on our virtual news-room platform supported by a messing app, Telegram. It reaches the mobile phones of 23 editors and editorial-coordinators of top Asian newspapers within a second it is published on the website. The graphs are easy to view on mobile phones and reach complimentary audiences.

Project members

Syed Nazakat, Editor-In-Chief Nabeela Khan, Assistant editor Shazia Slaam, Assistnat Editor/Data Researcher Sachin Jain, Visual designer Nadeem Akhtar, Data Researcher Surbhi Pandit, Outreach Lead



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