Making numbers pop with data journalism

Let’s face it: a story that’s jam-packed with numbers and statistics doesn’t always hold a reader’s attention.

But sometimes, the most informative and useful stories are those that are drawn from specific data. Data journalism, according to VOX, a website that tracks the top headlines, tells a story with numbers instead of basing a story off documents and conversations. The numbers have to be significant enough for a story to emerge from them, however.

A data-based story cannot be complete with just simple reporting on the numbers. Explaining in writing won’t do any significant value justice. People need to see to believe. That’s why in order to be a well-rounded data journalism story, the story needs graphs and charts to put numbers into perspective. When considering the facts that most people read stories on the Web and how most people look to get their news the fastest way possible, graphs and other pictures explaining the numbers make the story flow easier. To make graphs even more fun, adding an interactivity feature is always a plus.

Screenshot of a graph used in Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.
Screenshot of a graph used in Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

A recent story posted on The Upshot, a section in the New York Times that’s dedicated to number stories, reported on the increase in drought that is going on throughout the country. The story includes a large animated map of the U.S. with blobs of yellow, orange and red moving throughout the nation. Those “blobs” represent the drought and it’s intensity based on where it is in the country.

The story didn’t just simple report on the drought, it took an ongoing issue, global warming, and combined that with the increase in number of drought-like condition in the U.S. With the interactive map, readers can see how the drought moves and what areas are being hit most intense over the course of the last few weeks. The map is also updated weekly.

Screenshot of the interactive map on Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.
Screenshot of the interactive map on Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

Along with that one map, there are more charts and graphs depicting the numbers visually. According to the story, 37 percent of the country was in moderate drought by April 7.

For someone on the east coast who is not experiences the major effects of this drought, this story helped break down the severity by using five different visual methods to help me better understand what is going on in the rest of the country.

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