Data Storytelling

What is Data Journalism?

Data storytelling or journalism is an increasingly powerful force shaping many areas of our lives. After attending a Data Storytelling workshop put on by the University of Oregon’s Agora Journalism Center, I learned data is everywhere, and if you know how to accurately interpret or understand it, the data big, small, personal or universal can provide impactful answers to important social and environmental events all around us. For the creative advertising industry, using relevant data can give copywriters the tools to uncover hidden trends, patterns and analytics to develop a stronger, more compelling story or campaign.

Data Storytelling; Portland Design Week

The half-day workshop held during Portland’s Design Week, brought together professionals from different disciplines to share how data influences their work. We heard from Pulitzer Prize winning journalists, The New York Times, data companies and development agencies. The overarching theme consisted of the ability to unite data research concepts and link them through journalistic storytelling. Keynote speaker, Knight Chair in Journalism from Arizona State University, Steve Doig, spoke to the evolution and his first break in data journalism. He reflected on his 19-years at the Miami Herald, where his team won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism for their investigation into how building codes and lax zoning and inspection contributed to the significant damage of newer built homes vs. older homes, caused by Hurricane Andrew.

Doig says, “Data journalism is really just another way of gathering information. It’s the equivalent of interviewing sources and looking at documents, except with data journalism you’re interviewing the data to let it tell you its secrets.”


Data Journalism Tools

Panelists from The Oregonian, Oregon Public Broadcasting and The Seattle Times also spoke at the workshop, covering the principles of data storytelling and the tools available to create maps, charts and comparisons to visually improve user experience and interaction. Steve Suo from The Oregonian’s Data Hub Team explained linear vs. non-linear and a hybrid of the two data interfaces. If you’ve ever visited, you’ve probably experienced one or all of these interfaces. Depending on the type of story you may come across an info-graphic, a linear data tool that writers use to visually make a point to their readers. Or you might find yourself clicking through a number of data fields before a report or graph is generated, this is a more intuitive and non-linear interactive search tool. Audrey Carlsen from The Seattle Times also recommended for flexible and collaborative website development.

Analyze Your Data

The key message I learned from the workshop is to not shy away from using data that’s easily available to us, even if it requires a little research. Hopefully soon data journalism will be the norm for all copywriters. I believe we can use this knowledge to also create more compelling advertising campaigns. Data can provide insights to our clients’ needs, wants desires and motivations.

Alex Bachmann
Account Manager


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