Supporting data visualization literacy is key to drive the development of data visualization as a tool to enhance the understanding of critical information by the public. As explained in this Financial Times article: “only 63 per cent of American adults can correctly interpret a scatter plot”. I guess the figure would be similar across other western countries, and even lower in the developing world. Expanding the available vocabulary to data journalists would allow for improved accesibility to visualizations attempting to make sense of a complex issue.
The article mentions the Graphic Continuum as a learning tool, which the Financial Times used as a basis to develop their own Visual Vocabulary. But these attempts fall short of the real objective, which should be educating the general public. The 37% of American adults who can’t understand what a scatterplot is showing won’t turn to these tools for help. Educational efforts should be part of the mission of the data journalists to ensure their work is understood by a wider segment of the population as possible. This mission can only be achieved on a daily basis, developing our visualizations with the end user in mind. Not to dumb them down, but to provide tools to ensure they can be understood and navigated by anyone.
The findings come from the Pew Research Center, but also Reuters Institute published a report outlining similar findings:
Website users in particular remain resistant to online video news with only around 2.5% of average visit time spent on video pages in a range of 30 online news sites; 97.5% of time is still spent with text. Around 75% of respondents to a Reuters Institute survey of 26 countries said they only occasionally (or never) use video news online.
Why do people prefer text over video?
Well, no surprises here. According to respondents in a survey conducted by the Reuters Institute, the main reason (41% respondents) was that reading text was “quicker and more convenient”. But I think we could come up with a lot more reasons, easily:
Text is quotable and more easily shareable
Text is accesible to people with disabilities
Most videos don’t have subtitles, forcing me to turn up the volume / stop listening to music or whatever I was doing.
Video demands full attention, text is easily scannable and can be consumed at my own pace.
With text I can easily keep switching tabs to attend other matters, then come back and keep reading.
Most people avoid streaming video on their mobile phones due to low data plans
Most of the time, video doesn’t add any value to the information. See this one as an example.
In order to see what kind of videos would work in online news, we should take a look at what works outside online news sites. According to the same RI report:
We find that the most successful off-site and social videos tend to be short (under one minute), are designed to work with no sound (with subtitles), focus on soft news, and have a strong emotional element.
I signed up for my first email account on Yahoo! just about 20 years ago. I didn’t know what to do with it. None of my friends had one, and the only person I knew with an email was a friend that signed up with me, and we saw each other almost everyday. Data limits back when this was a problem mean that my email archive starts 6 years later, in 2002. I had to delete all previous email to free up space. Looking back at that archive I see friends and acquaintances I’m no longer in touch with, comments and memories from a past self, as foreign to me now as if I was peeking into someone else’s email.
During these 20 years I’ve given up my data to hundreds of companies, websites and services. Along the years these companies have dissappeared, merged, crashed, or grown into multimillion dollar businesses. But what’s common to all of them is that once I signed up for an account, I lost whatever degree of control I had over my personal data. Most of them never offered a way to delete the account, and when they did, they were outright lying, as ownership of my data was a revenue stream and/or an asset they could use in a sale negotiation.
Services like Twitter, Google and Facebook offer the possibility to sign up on external services using their credentials. That is the closer we ever got to a personal data protocol we could use to easily manage the services we sign up for, and we paid a dear price by giving up even more of our privacy to the advertisement industry.
Privacy and the control over personal data is going to become a key civil and digital rights issue in the coming years. While I’m conscious of the danger of having centralized data providers that would become instant magnets for malicious hackers, I think it’s not inherently more dangerous than spreading our data over dozens of services who may dissapear, be sold, be attacked or transfer your data without your knowledge and consent. We need a new architecture that gives us back control over our own data.
Data journalism can be much more than an impressive, interactive visualization or an inmmersive longform piece. There’s also the option of letting the data and the visualizations lead the storytelling, allowing for a much deeper comprehension of the subject at hand, as it’s the case with this work from the Tampa Bay Times. There, visualizations lead the story to show us the case they are investigating and explain to us why it’s important, taking us through each step.
During the last 20 years, almost every communication business, channel and practice has been dramatically subverted by the digital deluge. We live today in a world where Telcos are content providers, an online shop produces TV series, newspapers are no longer in paper, TV is increasingly more downloaded and streamed than broadcasted and radio… well, radio is mostly still there, just as it was 20 years ago. The only unscathed survivor of the digital media apocalypse that has dethroned kings and built new behemoths. At least until now.
Slowly, led by the first group of digital natives like Upworthy and Medium, which measure traffic by time-on-site, and the Financial Times, which began selling ads based on attention last year, traditional journalists have been adjusting to what a change in Web metrics might mean.
Juan Francisco Caro (Extremadura en Datos), speaking at the II Jornadas de Periodismo de Datos in Barcelona:
Data journalism is not just getting data out there. You have to verify sources and master statistical concepts to avoid publishing mistaken assumptions and interpretations. If not, information becomes disinformation.
Nicola Hughes (The Times), speaking at the II Jornadas de Periodismo de Datos in Barcelona:
If you can write it, record it or film it it’s not from the web, you’re putting something else on the web
Data journalism is becoming too popular, in the sense that some people think that it’s enough to do some line charts, bar charts, just putting data out there, but they are not telling the story. There’s a need for storytelling.
The internet is transient, there’s no control over the tools you use, they can disappear. But knowing how to code solves that. And it also helps to document, backup, reproduce projects, and reuse tools in different projects.
The problem right now is not that information is scarce, it’s the opposite, organisations and institutions publish a ton of information, and because most journalists only look for press releases and copy to rewrite, interesting things become hidden in the deluge.
Advice to journalists: Take risks. Use your imagination. Think of yourself as a craftsman.
There’s no such thing as “I don’t know”, just “I haven’t googled it yet”.
Do one coding course, just one, and then start building things. You have to write a lot of bad poetry to start writing good poetry. it’s very much a craft.