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Data journalism in PR: all about sharing knowledge

There is hardly any doubt that data journalism (also referred to as data-driven or database journalism) is one of the most interesting recent developments in journalism. And it might just be one of the next big things in PR, too.

Data journalism uses the abundance of existing data, analyses them and presents the results in a graphical way. The Guardian and New York Times even have dedicated teams focused on data journalism. According to the Guardian’s how-to guide, anyone can do it. Basically there are two approaches to it: you either start with asking a question (‘do speed cameras cost or save money?’) and gather data that might answer it.

The alternative is to start with what you have: databases within your own organisation and open data.

Half your brain

This is where PR comes in. We are always looking out for soft news angles, creating topics that show the expertise of our organisation and giving journalists valuable input that they can use for an editorial article. Presenting the data in a visual attractive way (like an infographic) helps to attract the attention to your message. According to experts from Stanford University in an interesting video report on data visualization half of our brain is hardwired for vision. Data journalism and visualisation takes advantage of this.

If you want to see how this works: this tool visualises your LinkedIn network. Pretty cool, huh?

A great example of how PR is starting to realise the enormous potential of data journalism is the Dutch TV show Nederland van Boven (similar to Britain from Above and Deutschland von Oben). The programme combines beautiful footage shot from a helicopter with data visualisations on different aspects of our lives. For one of the episodes (on communication) the editors turned to Vodafone to ask for data on the use of mobile phones. Not only was Vodafone willing to provide the data, the communication officer even helped to analyse the data. His initiative was rewarded with an internal innovation award. And it’s easy to see why – the results are stunning, with the data presented in several interactive maps, like the one below:

The above map allows you to calculate how far you can travel from our Eindhoven office in 60 minutes, the lower one displays the routes that dog owners take when they walk through the forrest.

How hard is data journalism?

As data journalism is reaching the adult phase, the cases of successful use in PR are growing: PR Daily recently published four interesting examples, including an analysis of the average viewing time of online videos. Ooyala, a provider of video services, found that tablet users not only finish videos more often, but are also more engaged.

These examples showcase that you can put as much time and energy in data research and graphical presentation as you want. Sometimes even the most simple analysis can generate good content: online fashion outlet Vente Exclusive performed some research on its own database and discovered that Dutch women buy bigger bras than Belgian women (based on the purchases of 15,000 women). As you can imagine, the press release received very good pick-up.

Sharing knowledge

This is just the beginning. I’m convinced that we will see many more successful cases of data PR in the near future. One could even argue that PR pro’s (and many journalists alike) still don’t take enough advantage of the availability of (open) data. According to Nicholas White, co-founder and CEO of The Daily Dot, data journalists require a totally different mind-set and skills:

In the information age, journalism needs to go further. Information bombards us. What is scarce is insight, understanding and knowledge.

For PR this means that we have to start putting more effort in analysing data ourselves and make beautiful visualisations (using tools like those offered by our client Tableau Software). Another way to enter the world of data journalism is by opening up databases to journalists, for their research.

After all, it’s all about sharing your knowledge.

What are your favourite examples of data journalism? Have you tried it yourself?

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