Datajournalism.com is back with a new Conversations with Data podcast series focused on data and climate journalism.
In our latest episode, we sat down with information designer Duncan Geere, data journalist Pei Ying Loh from The Kontinentalist, and visual journalist Rodolfo Almeida to discuss the power of data visualisation for enhancing your climate reporting.
We hear their insights into visualising human stories linked to climate change and how best to engage audiences on this critical issue. We also learn about the best approach to designing charts and graphs for your climate coverage. Here is our roundup of 5 takeaways from the podcast. If you want to listen to full Conversations with Data Episode 54, click here.
1. Choose visuals that relate to people’s everyday experiences
To engage audiences with abstract stories, journalists should take every opportunity to find visuals that draw on past and current experiences. That’s the advice from Pei Ying Loh, co-founder and head of The Kontinentalist, a Singapore-based data studio. In the podcast, she explains how the investigative team did just that in its interactive piece, Uncovering Myanmar’s Rare Earths.
The article shows how the drive for clean tech relies on mining materials and elements that can cause further destruction of the earth, negatively impacting the health and environment of local communities. Such is the case in Myanmar, one of the largest exporters of rare earth elements, where a civil war is happening. The story shows how mining activities often take place in countries where little protection exists against this happening, thanks to limited transparency and high corruption.
To help people understand this problem and how it relates to them, the team chose a mobile phone as an entry point to demonstrate how even our everyday consumer products rely on rare earth elements to function. As readers click on the various parts of the phone visual, the various rare earth elements are shown through the single cells of the periodic table – an image that brings us back to our school days in chemistry class.
2. Empower audiences with a call to action
In the age of news avoidance, it’s no secret that a constant stream of negative news can turn off audiences. Climate journalism is no exception. But by taking a solutions-oriented approach to your climate journalism, you can help audiences engage with the issues at hand. One way to do this is to insert a call to action at the end of your article, as explained by The Kontinentalist’s Loh. In her experience, this can be a useful way to show readers how to empower readers to take action in their daily lives. For instance, reaching out to political representatives on an issue, buying products that are sustainably sourced or minimising consumption are a few examples that have worked for The Kontinentalist.
3. The quest for neutrality can undermine the credibility of journalists Journalistic integrity and credibility can be questioned when investigative journalists based in places like Brazil go after big players who are invested in keeping the status quo. Visual journalist Rodolfo Almeida from São Paulo spoke to us about how his fellow reporters continue to receive threats and harassment when covering issues like the preservation of the Amazon or land grabbing.
“The media ecosystem still has a view that you have to be neutral no matter what you are reporting on,” says Almeida. “That can damage the credibility of journalists who are doing important work and denouncing environmental destruction and exploitation that needs our attention.” In the future, he wants to see bolder and more direct visualisations that explain the complexities of climate change. This ties in with his research on how visualisations can be used to explain so-called “invisible” problems in order to engage audiences.
4. Climate change is urgent and requires a radical shift in our reporting
We can all agree that climate change is not a simple problem that requires one solution. Instead, Almeida calls it an evolving global threat intertwined with a multitude of societal and economic issues requiring constant mitigation efforts. Given climate change impacts every aspect of our lives, information designer Duncan Geere further argued that climate change is a critical issue that must be embedded across every news section. Journalists must not leave it to another news desk to cover it; there is a strong need for more accountability reporting on this issue.
5. Go beyond visuals with sound to spur emotion in audiences
Discovering solutions to climate change is always evolving. That innovation is also vital for reshaping our story formats. As the founder of the Loud Numbers podcast and data sonification studio, Geere explains the importance of engaging audiences with sound in data storytelling. He explains how sound reaches people in a way that is much harder to do with traditional visuals. Temperature and sea level rises are both time series data that lend themselves well to this medium.
He points to his Loud Numbers data sonification podcast looking at temperatures in three locations in the UK during the July 2022 heatwave. The numbers in the dataset range from a low of 11 degrees to a new record high for the UK of 40 degrees. The louder and rougher sounds in the piece reflect the hotter temperatures during the time period. “One of the powers of sonification is that it can carry emotional weight in a way that a standard bar chart cannot. You can create a sonification so that it gets so loud that it hurts, but this is impossible with a bar chart,” says Geere.
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