Alberto Cairo, Power BI & the rise of data journalism

Oct 18, 2016   |   Thomas Kohnstamm

From the election of Pope Francis to the passing of Nelson Mandela to Miley Cyrus’ MTV #twerk heard ’round the world, 2013 was full of big headlines and viral hits. Yet The New York Times’ top story of the year was the humble result of a vocabulary survey of 350,000 randomly selected Americans conducted by a then-intern at the paper.

Instead of presenting these findings in a written article, “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk” achieved breakout success as an interactive data visualization. It asked readers 25 questions such as “How would you address a group of two or more people?” or “How do you pronounce ‘aunt’?” and then heat-mapped their responses to the most similar regional dialect in the U.S. The interactivity and colorful visuals transmuted survey data into a fun, insightful tour through the contours of contemporary American English.

Visualization no longer just complements a written story. It is the story. In our increasingly data-driven world, visualization is becoming an essential tool for journalists from national papers to blogs with a staff of one.

I recently spent two days discussing the state of data journalism with Alberto Cairo, the Knight Chair of Visual Journalism at the School of Communication at the University of Miami. While he stressed the importance of data visualization for efficient communication and audience engagement, Cairo argued that “Above all else, visualizations — when done right — are a vehicle of clarification and truth.”

Read more from Microsoft Story Labs.

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