When I told friends and families that my job is to tell stories with data, they often thought that it is a boring job because of the word “data”. But when I showed them some of my works, they started to smile and told me “this is very interesting!”
The secret lies in the art of personalizing and humanizing data. Facts and figures are no longer cold and heartless if you could build a bridge between them and the users. Here are two news apps that I created to serve as the bridge.
First is a calculator that complements a hard news on the unequal distribution of unpaid housework between men and women. The calculator helps fathers to count the total time they spend on housework each day and compare it with fathers in other countries. Some fathers like me felt proud when we saw our performance is relatively high. But when the calculator compared it with the time spent by mothers in other countries, that’s when we saw and felt the inequality.
You can access the calculator here.
The second news app is also a calculator. It estimates whether you had a higher chance of being targeted by a hate crime in the US now than before the 9/11 attacks, based on your demographics. It was published in conjunction with the 15th anniversary of the attacks.
You can access the news app here.
Both news apps are trying to make the hard, cold data relevant to individuals, to let them see how the numbers affect their lives. Such interactive approach not only makes the story more engaging, it unleashes more impacts. This is the power of data if used effectively.
That’s right, the news application I created for PRI.org has won the Public Choice Award in the Data Journalism Award 2016!
Thanks to my colleagues, families, friends and readers who have voted for the news application “What if the Syrian civil war happened in your country?”.
It was first shortlisted as one of the five finalists under the category “News Data App of the Year (Small Newsroom)” and later, together with other finalists in all 10 categories, opened for public voting. The finalist with the highest vote would be given the Public Choice Award. The awards organized by the Global Editors Network received 241 entries this year.
Here’s the idea behind the news app that simulates the damages brought by the Syrian civil if it were to happen in another country.
“How do you generate empathy with the victims of a war that has been repeatedly told through various formats and media in the past 5 years? Despite being the most disastrous humanitarian situation in the 21st century, most of us have become numb to the Syrian civil war. Numbers and infographics highlighting the cruelty of the crisis no longer move us. In conjunction with the fifth anniversary of the Syrian civil war and the growing anti-refugee sentiment in the US and Europe, this news app uses basic data to allow users to simulate the civil war in their own country, moving the war closer to their hearts. This is another attempt by PRI.org to combine personalization of data, interactivity and creativity to create empathy after the hugely successful news app “What if your hometown were hit by the Hiroshima atomic bomb?” last August.”
Cited and embedded by other news websites in both the US and Europe, it has been used over 37,000 times in less than one month by users from all over the world, generating much more traffic than an average PRI story.
I guess this would be the most viral online content I’ve ever created in my life.
This news app “What if your hometown were hit by the Hiroshima atomic bomb?” I created for PRI.org was played almost one million times by users all over the world. (There’s a newer version with some improved features.) It has been cited and reproduced by over 30 websites (I’ve stop tracking the number but simple Googling can show you some of them) in various languages.
I’ve been tracking the use of the app since it was published and it is now clocking at 850,000++. I even made an animated map to show when and where the bombs were dropped.
What’s the thought behind it? While researching for stories in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing, I came across some data on the damages caused by the atomic bomb. I could have done a straightforward story by listing a bunch of numbers about the death toll and other damages probably with some charts or infographics, but I asked myself a question: How can I use the information or data I have to help readers put themselves in the shoes of the victims? The answer led to the news app.
This news app also serves at a gateway to many other great stories done by my colleagues on the anniversary collected in the series called Hiroshima Generations.