Data Journalism: If a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many is a good data visualisation worth?

Like most developments in journalism, there are those who still prefer to sneer or snark about data journalism.

But there’s no denying that a) it’s here to stay and b) it’s an incredibly valuable tool which every newsroom should seek to invest effort into.

This week brought news of the latest local government finance settlement. The government’s spin was simple: Local government spending accounts for 25% of all public sector spending, so local government must takes its share of the pain. But, said the government, it would ensure those areas with the greatest pressures would get the most support. The key stat from Government was that budgets (it prefers to say spending power) would fall by around 1.6% on average.

The key word there, is average.

Local government minister Kris Hopkins used around 2,100 words to explain the local government finance settlement. In a word cloud, it looks like this:


Beyond the obvious ones like ‘government’ ‘local’ ‘councils’ and ‘authorities’ the words which were repeated most often included ‘growth’ ‘consultation’ ‘funding’ and ‘services.’

The Trinity Mirror Data Unit was one of a number of data journalism teams to turn the actual settlement for councils into a heat map:


For all of the government’s bluster about fairness, one graphic based on Government shows it not to be true.

So, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s the worth of a good data visualisation in words? Based on this example, it’s around 2,100 words.

If journalism is about holding those in power to account and explaining what that means to the wider public, then data journalism is perhaps the most important thing to develop in journalism in the last 20 years.


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