Which Comes First: The Story Or The Data?

What did our Content Marketing Manager learn from a recent media panel held in Philadelphia on data storytelling?

power of data for storytelling

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We sent our intrepid Content Marketing Manager Viktoria Lindback out to the Penn Museum in Philadelphia on June 4 to attend The Power of Data for Storytelling media panel featuring speakers from the NY Times, Forbes, AP, and Mozilla. What follows is an account of her takeaways from the event.

Storytelling is a hot topic in the BI world. For us here at Qlik, this rising trend has caused us to put a lot of thought behind our data storytelling feature. We want to help users extend analyses beyond PowerPoint presentations and create persuasive, analytical stories that link back to the original source data. 

But what about the power of data for storytelling? That was the exact topic of a recent media panel I attended featuring New York Times technology writer Steve Lohr, Frank Bi of Forbes, Paul Cheung with Associated Press, and Erika Owens from Knight-Mozilla OpenNews.

power of data for storytelling panel 

Focusing on the rise of data journalism, the panelists offered their perspectives on how important supportive data has become to journalists,  and how it has changed the way news articles originate. And since data is playing an increasingly bigger role in the media, the audience of PR professionals was eager to learn what comes first — the story or the data?

Turns out, it can be both.

The panelists agreed that increased access to data has definitely changed the starting point for evaluating what is newsworthy. Cheung and Bi shared stories of how they have pursued article topics based on a hunch about data they have found online or that has been sent to their newsrooms. For example, Bi talked about how he built a program to calculate how many followers President Obama—or @POTUS— gained when he recently signed up for Twitter. He had a hunch it was extraordinary and wanted to validate his gut-feeling. The result? A whopping 3,314 followers per minute!

But the panelists also highlighted the importance of journalistic instinct to create great stories. For example, they tend to reject incomplete data because they’re unable to analyze entire datasets for, say, historical context or regional comparison. (Inside tip to PR professionals: newsrooms prefer if you send them raw datasets to play around with rather than “big numbers” or infographics).

Lohr also noted how the increased volume of available data leaves more room for “mischief and deception,” further cementing the importance of data being paired with journalistic training and on-the-ground reporting.

For me personally, it was interesting to see a room full of data journalists and technology writers come to the same conclusion as the BI industry: data alone has no intrinsic value. What matters is how you use it. For journalists, that can mean using data to breathe life into a story. For BI users , it’s creating a story to bring data to life.

But in the end, both stories and data need to be animated by a great question to be meaningful.

For more event highlights, check out this blog post by the sponsor.


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