Inside Politico’s five-person interactive news team

A year after creating an interactive news team, Politico says it’s paying off. The content has drawn 7 million unique visitors to more than 20 interactive graphics such as one detailing White House visitor logs and a fact-checking analysis of the State of the Union address, and it gets seven times as much readership as the average story, said Politico editor Carrie Budoff Brown.

The five-person interactive team’s work has also sparked advertiser interest. Politico got AARP to sponsor a series called “The Deciders” that will focus on U.S. voters who are 50 and older heading into the midterm elections. That series will include polls conducted by Politico and AARP that the interactive team will convert into charts and other visualizations, which will then inform articles in Politico’s print magazine.

“The fact that we have a team that can do visually compelling interactive graphics is a selling point for us as we do ambitious projects that might have an underwritten component for sponsors,” said Brown, who emphasized that sponsors have no role in the editorial content they underwrite.

Brown took a personal interest in establishing the interactive news team, which she did soon after taking the reins of the publication after the 2016 U.S. presidential election. One of Politico’s first reporters, having joined a month before its 2007 launch, Brown always wanted to tell stories in multiple ways.

She shared that objective with Paul Volpe, who was hired from The New York Times in November 2016 as Politico’s executive editor. At the Times and The Washington Post before that, Volpe had worked with visual journalists and interactive developers, and he saw the importance of visual journalism as an enabler of transparency and accountability journalism, he said.

Politico’s interactive team illustrated that importance with one of its first projects. After the Trump administration decided against releasing public White House visitor logs, Politico reporter Andrew Restuccia worked with the interactive team to create an unauthorized version. “We were trying to tell a story on the surface level for anyone who just popped in and wanted to gain some information,” Volpe said. “And then we were also able to provide users a tool to go deeper and look at the types of people, whether it was from industry or by race or gender, that were visiting the White House.”

Beyond individual articles, the interactive team rebuilt the technology underpinning Politico’s election results coverage. It also created a custom content management system to make who’s who lists like the Politico 50 more mobile-friendly and a chat tool to have Slack power its live blogs.

All of that work can overextend the interactive team, particularly as more members of Politico’s newsroom want to work with it. To deal with that, the team has built back-end tools for other reporters to do their own visual journalism, such as a chart maker that can be used in daily news coverage.

While Politico’s interactive news team has more than doubled from its two members at launch last April, its members can still be counted on one hand, though it will add a sixth member by June. “I wish we had more of them because really, the demands are that strong,” said Brown.

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