Innovative Approaches to Interactive Journalism

Curated by

Simon Bowers
Simon is ICIJ’s senior reporter and media partner coordinator for Europe. He has worked on ICIJ projects such as LuxLeaks, Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, and the Implant Files. Before joining…
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The Follower Factory
New York Times
Poor Michael Simon. The U.S. celebrity chef is picked out by the New York Times as the first case study in this unflinching study of fake, cloned and paid-for followers on Twitter. This piece starts in text form, patiently explaining to the uninitiated how "amplification bots" can boost influence on social media. Later, it shifts on to phone App-style infographics and scattered graphs.
Splitter im Rücken
Süddeutsche Zeitung
Of all the examples on this list, I think this one from Suddeutsche Zeitung works best in terms of using different tools to tell a story to maximum effect. It's a story about a controversial implant that was used in patients with spinal problems. I love the way it slips from images and short bursts of text to diagrams, longer text, and video. There is no showing off here. Every change is to better tell the story. But the best thing about this piece of work, for me, is its use of color. An article like this could easily be accompanied by imagery awash with blood and gore, but it's not. Check out instead how sparingly SZ use reds against a palate dominated by washed out blues and greens.
Global population growth, box by box
Ted Talks
I don’t think Hans Rosling ever described himself as a journalist. He was a statistician, physician and academic by background. But he is best remembered as a communicator, bringing to life data in inventive ways. I use Ikea plastic boxes to house belongings I should probably throw out. Here, Rosling uses them to tell engaging data stories with all his seductive folksy charm.
Gender pay gap: when does your company stop paying women in 2018?
The Guardian
Women in work are not paid as much as men. Regrettably, that's not new news. But this piece from the Guardian finds an attention-grabbing way to present fresh data on the topic. Following new requirements on UK companies to disclose their gender pay gaps, this piece transposes the figures onto a calendar so as to arrive at a single date, each year, when women employees at each company effectively start working for free alongside their paid male colleagues. As the reader scrolls through what look like familiar month-by-month calendar boxes, all the sprinkled findings are gradually revealed. There are acknowledged weaknesses to the data comparison here (it does not look at women in the equivalent roles as men), but for me, it remains a clever and provocative piece of work.
Zensur in China. Das Volk hat Worte und du löschst sie
Zeit Magazin
This search engine analysis from De Zeit offers a glimpse at how secretive Chinese censors control public discourse on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo. Die Zeit's article is behind a paywall, but they have shared the underlying data in a Google spreadsheet containing thousands of proscribed terms.
Unsurprisingly, "Panama Papers" is on the list of banned searches, along with "ICIJ" and several Western media outlets. As well as attempting to stop direct discussion of sensitive political matters, censors are locked in a game of cat-and-mouse, trying to keep up with the latest poxy terms that dissidents are using to discuss taboo topics. "Flowers bloom in warm spring" and "Winnie the Pooh" are among the terms blocked.
Searching for evidence of Trump’s personal giving
Washington Post
Sometimes great data journalism can be built on information that is not readily available — waiting to be scraped, leaked, hacked or released in response to a freedom of information request. Sometimes it must be built, line by line, through nothing plain, old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold contacted 400 charities in an attempt to verify claims from Donald Trump that he had given large sums to them. But this was shoe-leather reporting with a twist: throughout the process, Fahrenthold kept interacting with his Twitter followers, posting photos of hand-scrawled and annotated extracts in his reporter's pad. After a Herculean effort, he had found - surprise, surprise - just one donation that came from the U.S. president's own pocket. For his efforts, he won a Pulitzer.
Cameroon atrocity: Finding the soldiers who killed this woman
BBC News Africa- Twitter Account
This is one of the most powerful examples of how scattered visual data points can be harvested from the web and stitched together to expose a hidden truth. In this case, it is a harrowing massacre in Cameroon. BBC Africa Eye made a film about their findings, ( but the detailed evidence trail is set out on this Twitter thread.
Apple’s value hit $1 trillion. Add Disney to Bank of America and … You’re halfway there
The New York Times
When Apple’s stock market value crept above $1 trillion in 2018, it was a milestone that media around the world wanted to mark. But how do you tell your audience what a trillion dollar company looks like? This retro look visualization from the New York Times is a playful way of comparing the size of companies. It looks like a game of Tetris, with shapes slipping around like jello blocks (or “jelly blocks” if you’re British, like me).
Selling England (and Wales) by the pound
Private Eye
This interactive map from British satire and investigations magazine Private Eye plots all UK properties that were owned by companies registered overseas between 1999 and 2014. Much of it is held through tax and secrecy haven firms. The information was released in response to a freedom of information request, with some suggestion that more information than intended had been disclosed by accident. If you know the UK well, you can zoom right in to find a street you know. Perhaps, like me, you live two streets away from some off-street parking spaces owned by a firm in Panama. Given that London property is a notoriously desirable destination for laundered money, this map is a really useful tool. It’s hardly the most beautifully designed visualization, but it works really well. Not bad from a publication that puts almost none of its content online.
Sonification: turning the yield curve into music
Financial Times
This piece which featured in the Financial Times (behind a paywall, sorry) is more art installation than economic analysis. It’s about the fluctuating interest on short-, medium- and long-dated U.S. Treasury bonds. There have been attempts to tell the historic story of this yield curve — the most closely watched of all economic indicators — before. An effort by the New York Times in 2015 looked like a roll of crepe paper, accidentally unraveled.
The latest attempt from the FT sets the yield curve to music. Okay, it’s nuts. But it’s cool.