Miranda Thompson and Jemima Johnson-Gilbert recall their first experience finding data and creating infographics.
The idea emerged from initial discussions at XCity editorial meetings. “We definitely want to do something on data journalism”, said features editor Helena Lee. “Something a bit different. Let’s do data on data.”
“Data on data?”
“Yes. We’ll find our own data about data journalism, and then visualise it. It’ll look great.”
Keen to explore more on this area, I volunteered my participation on the project, alongside fellow data novice Jemima. I’d been to a data journalism event hosted by Future Human just the week before, where one of the panel was Julian Assange’s lawyer, Mark Stephens. My interest had been piqued by the newsworthiness of the topic and the amount of conversation and argument generated by the topic of data; hacks vs. hackers, the future of the press, and the influence of Wikileaks. Data isn’t simply a string of numbers. It’s news.
To get an idea as to where we should start searching for data, I cornered City University online journalism visiting professor Paul Bradshaw. He recommended the data sets stored data.gov.uk as a starting point. Intriguing as they were, they just weren’t the data we had in mind.
Next on my list was a call to Guardian data journalist (and XCity Award nominee) James Ball for advice. We weren’t looking for data on just any subject; the essence was finding data on actual data. We talked about the number of data journalists employed by national newspapers, but the results would be predictable and hard to visualise in an innovative way. Ball’s most important advice was that the visualisation of data was key to making the data stand out.
Miranda and I worked through what we wanted to achieve, finally deciding on three different data sets to research and visualise. These would be focused on key words that spring out of data journalism; namely, “Wikileaks”, “infographics”– and “data journalism” itself.
Getting the actual data was comparatively easy, thanks to a few quick searches on Nexis UK. But it was where to begin in visualising the data that proved to be tricky. Miranda discovered David McCandless’ site, home to a host of inspiring infographics, in order to get more of an idea about the field. His visualisation of even the most mundane data as eye-catching infographics – think clever arrangements of logos or bubbles billowing out of a page.
Although we attempted to re-create these visions, it turned out a few blobs on Microsoft Paint, does not an infographic make. I contacted graphic designer, Jessica Palmer-Tomkinson.
Armed with high-resolution images sourced from the internet and volumes of “infographics inspiration”, Jess got stuck into the project and although she had never created an infographic before she became as absorbed by data as we were. The results can be seen here exclusively on XCity Online