Data Journalism – Made in Switzerland
In the fifth part of this blog series on infographics, we spoke with Marc Brupbacher. He heads the Interaktiv-Team of Tamedia, the editorial team of BZ Berner Zeitung, Der Bund, Der Landbote, SonntagsZeitung, Tages-Anzeiger and others. The team has been publishing interactive stories since 2016 and has internalised the idea of thinking, writing, designing and programming online first. Especially during the corona pandemic, the Interaktiv-Team also produces a particularly large number of visualizations to convey information.
The most difficult thing during the corona pandemic is to obtain data, says Marc Brupbacher*, head of the Interaktiv-Team, summarising his main current difficulty. The authorities have sovereignty over the data – and both the federal government and the cantons are very restrictive when it comes to the right to use the data. For example, his team had to research the key figures of the corona pandemic independently – for example at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, at various national health authorities and agencies, at the cantons, at openZH (open authority data of administrative units and organs of the canton of Zurich) and at the Bundesamt für Gesundheit BAG. But it’s worth the effort: the dashboard “Die neusten Zahlen zum Schweizer Covid-19-Ausbruch”, which is updated daily, has had almost 10 million page views to date, and the dwell time of over seven minutes is astonishingly long. The Interaktiv-Team takes care of the data input every day and takes care of the quality assurance of the dashboard, which enjoys an excellent reputation.
Brupbacher is convinced that text will remain an important component in visual journalism as well. He refers here to the article “So hilft die SwissCovid-App beim Contact-Tracing”, which uses text scroll-overs to explain in a very didactic way why proximity tracing makes sense and how the different phases of infection and spread of the virus work with and without the app.
Interactive mediation formats make it possible to update the articles regularly and to incorporate new findings during the corona pandemic. For example, the topic of “excess mortality” has been incorporated into the various graphs – allowing mortality to be compared with previous years (and flu waves). Another example is the risk of infection from aerosols: The article “Hier lauert das Virus im Alltag” uses videos and studies to show that the new coronavirus can spread not only by droplet infection, but also by aerosols, i.e. by particularly fine virus-containing mist that remains in the air for a long time. Using many everyday situations – restaurants, open-plan offices, bus/public transport, bars/clubs, fitness, etc. – it is shown where and how the risk of infection is particularly high.
Reading interest in the interactive articles was already very high before the corona pandemic, but now demand has risen again. The business model of the media house Tamedia online is that – depending on the point of view – some or many articles are teasered and the entire report can only be read with a subscription. The payment offers Abo+ (for one or more months) and Tagespass can be activated online. The subscriptions that have been taken out show which articles arouse great interest. As Brupbacher notes, the Interaktiv-Teamgenerates relatively more new subscriptions with its reports than the other departments.
The Interaktiv-Team develops very different narrative formats for this and deliberately explores storytelling, as the three examples below show:
The quiz “Wie populistisch sind Sie?” was developed in cooperation with the British daily newspaper Guardian before the last Swiss parliamentary elections in 2019. With this quiz, users can test how populist they are themselves. The answers are placed on a grid consisting of two axes: the positioning of an ideological left-right dimension and the expression of the populist dimension. In the evaluation, users can compare themselves with selected politicians and with all participants by means of two charts.
The populist quiz was very successful and went viral – in other words, it was clicked, liked and shared a thousand times. The user analysis showed that more than 95% of the users finished the quiz, which is a very high value compared to other quizzes. Based on this echo, a follow-up project was also developed for the print channels.
The second example is thematically a completely different story: the comic strip “Die Killer verfolgen ihre Opfer bis in die Notaufnahme” by Felix Schaad. The house cartoonist captured his impressions illustratively during his trip to Honduras and south-eastern Mexico for Médecins Sans Frontières. After his return, his documentation was evaluated with the Interaktiv-Team, portioned and condensed into a graphic novel. Pure storytelling, Brupbacher emphasises, the collaboration was very cooperative and Felix Schaad adapted some illustrations during the process to suit the media. This is a project collaboration that Brupbacher would like to develop further or to implement this form of reporting more often.
The food was broken down into its ingredients (percentages by weight) and photographed in the studio. The third example is a long seller: these representations of different foods were so amazing that they aroused enormous interest and were constantly being developed. The article “Das steckt drin” was followed a year later by further representations (“Was steckt drin – Teil 2”) due to its demand. These photorealistic “layered pictures” are impressive data visualizations. Some of these representations were presented to a broad public in the exhibition “Wissen in Bildern – Informationsdesign heute” at the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (20.09.2019 – 08.03.2020).
Data journalism and information design convey a wide variety of content in short form and – in the best case – intuitively combine word and image. The importance of publishing and conveying journalistic knowledge has been established during the corona pandemic and it is to be hoped that the importance will continue to grow and thus open the way for the development of further new visual narrative formats.
* Marc Brupbacher heads the Storytelling & Repackaging department in the Digital Products division at Tamedia. In addition to the Interaktiv-Team, which has been involved in several award-winning storytelling projects, he is also responsible for the 12-App and blogs. Previously, he worked at tagesanzeiger.ch/Newsnet as head of the newsdesk and as a page maker. He studied journalism and organisational communication at the Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften (ZHAW).