Inside Bloomberg’s 30-person international data journalism team

Data visualizations and charts are playing an increasingly important role in Bloomberg’s journalism. The publisher has a 30-person data journalism team, known as its graphics team, across New York; Washington, D.C.; London; and Hong Kong. This number has grown from six in 2012 when it launched as a separate unit and started experimenting with long-running graphics like the Bloomberg Billionaire Index.

According to Bloomberg, monthly average traffic for the graphics team in 2018 increased 19.3 percent year-over-year, but it wouldn’t share specific numbers.

“We want to measure our success through impact, graphics we’ve worked on that have changed things,” said Martin Keohan, executive editor of graphics and visual data.

Last November, the team produced charts for a story on the rise in use cases of an old legal document, confessions of judgment, that compels small-business owners seeking a loan to sign a statement giving up their right to defend themselves if the lender takes them to court. In New York, there have been 25,000 court cases — and growing — involving this mechanism over the last three years. As a result of the story, the New York attorney general and two senators are investigating whether confessions of judgment should be abolished, said Keohan.

Two years ago, the team produced these graphics accompanying the roll-out of Amazon’s same-day delivery service and the areas — notably those with a higher minority population — that were excluded. As a result of the story, Amazon extended its same-day delivery service to all neighborhoods in Boston, New York and Chicago.

“We’re in a media environment where fake news is tossed around and people are disputing facts and what is true,” said Keohan. “Data journalism is a way to cut through that and establish credibility. It sits on sound data that has been vetted and tested; it helps Bloomberg stand out as a source of data-supported facts.”

Publishers like the Economist, use charts on social to drive people back to its site and subscribe. Most publishers use interactive charts and visualizations to enhance their content and tell complex stories quickly at a glance, but measuring that success beyond metrics like dwell time and pageviews is difficult.

In 2016, the Bloomberg graphics team integrated more fully with the newsroom, attending regular news meetings and working more collaboratively with the title’s other journalists to improve coordination and visibility. Depending on the news cycle, each month Bloomberg’s graphics team creates around 100 quicker charts and around 35 more in-depth standalone charts, like the Amazon piece and the confessions of judgment piece; these are often full web pages with interactions and a narrative.

Often the standalone graphics are more evergreen, for instance. This chart on how land in America is used — whether urban, pastoral, forest — was shared widely on social and is still getting traction. According to the publisher, this chart — which was an idea sparked by the graphics team — had the most unique visitors among graphics stories in 2018 and had the second-most unique visitors among all stories on in 2018. The majority of the requests for graphics come from the newsroom, although often the top-performing work comes from ideas inside the graphics team, the publisher said.

“We get involved at the beginning; we have a lot of experience and are full of questions, asking questions as a reader would,” said Alex Tribou, managing editor of graphics at Bloomberg.

For instance, timelines are often used as a way to represent events over time, but it’s a very backward-looking graphic by definition. In November, during ongoing protests and before the Trump administration put tougher oil sanctions on Venezuela, the graphics team probed to how to make sense of events leading up to such political and economic unrest. The team found that the price of oil was the common thread running through the past 20 years of Venezuelan history, impacting GDP, inflation, and poverty, using this as a barometer to track events.

To keep growing the team and its output, Bloomberg plans to train journalists in the newsroom to use data-analysis tools like Python and quicker tools so they can knock out charts within minutes, leaving more room for the graphics team to collaborate with the newsroom on deeper standalone pieces.

“We want to scale this work so more team can collaborate, break more news, have more impact,” said Keohan.

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