Meek School hosts 4th annual Data Day; managing editor of The Gazette speaks on data visualization

Posted on Nov 3 2017 - 8:01am by Makail Johannesson

Rapid technological change has brought forth a fast-paced world with virtually every industry continuously adapting, and among those adapting is the field of journalism. As an increasing amount of the population receives its news from the internet, this both opens the door for devices that can complement traditional news writing and also creates a demand for even faster ways of news transmission.

Students were given the opportunity to learn more about these changes yesterday. The Meek School of Journalism and New Media hosted its fourth annual Data Day yesterday in the Overby Auditorium. The event included an 8 a.m. presentation courtesy of Max Freund, the digital managing editor of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and another at 11 a.m., where Erica Huerta, competitive intelligence manager for Amazon & Whole Foods, gave a lecture.

Freund emphasized data visualization and its importance in journalism.

“The more pieces of stimuli you have in your short term memory, the harder it is to remember them and even harder it is to make the connections between them,” he said.

Freund claimed stories are nothing more than collections of data and bits of information that consumers are not only expected to understand but also to make connections between. He argued that visual devices such as charts are an easier form of stimuli for readers to comprehend.

He said the purpose of visual data however, isn’t a substitute to written news, but a complement. Pairing the two provides a consistent point of reference while reading an article in addition to a visual summary.

He said that by visualizing summaries, we are better able to visualize trends.

“It matters to not only the readers, but it matters to reporters. This is something reporters need to do more of, in my opinion, is visualize prior to writing your stories,” Freund said. 

The presentation also addressed user behavior. According to 2 billion site visits provided by Chartbeat Analysis, 55 percent of page views lasted less than 15 active seconds.

 “In a digital state where attention spans are extremely fleeting, (data visualization) can be very valuable to you … if you don’t hook someone within first few charts, you lose them,” he said. 

He backed his statement up with additional numbers, claiming stories with visual data experience 16-34 percent more commentary and shares, a 65-100 percent lift in average session duration, and a 317 percent improvement in depth of scroll.

“Data visualizations are the candy that lets you feed readers their vegetables,” said Freund.

Freund discussed misleading uses of data and how they can bias readers, describing the nuanced component of charts and graphs as “visualizations that fail to showcase the important element.” 

He referenced a Congressional hearing where Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, presented a “bogus” chart to the president of Planned Parenthood. The chart, showing abortions and cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood over time, failed to include a y-axis and other relevant data points. Freund called it “art” and not data visualization.

Freund’s presentation focussed on the accuracy of data.

“Data never lies. People lie about data.”

Freund said proper data visualization enhances the reader’s experience, improves the reporter’s discussions and offers insight into healthy debates.

“I’m 100 percent supportive of a proper data visualization leading to a constructive debate and exchange of ideas,” he said.