Bridging the Gap with Data Journalism

Since the dawn of journalism, journalists have struggled with presenting data in a compelling way, which makes sense. You can throw numbers at people, but if those statistics aren’t in context, or they don’t catch someone’s attention, the story will fall flat.

Data journalism aims to bridge this gap by training journalists to use the right data and incorporate it into their work so that it’s logical and compelling. Read on to learn how Microsoft has partnered with Enlighten to train journalists in data journalism.

What Is Data Journalism?

Data journalism is a new concept that expresses an old idea – telling a truth that’s backed up by accurate information.

Today, data journalism has taken on the utmost importance. There are two reasons for that:

  • There’s more data available than ever before
  • It’s easier to access data than ever before

These two factors have led to the rise of fake news; many people no longer trust journalism because it’s so easy to find data and manipulate it to serve nefarious purposes. Data journalism aims to change that by utilising accurate, timely information in stories, so it grabs the reader or viewer’s attention.


Microsoft and Data Journalism

To help journalists develop data-driven stories with powerful visualisations, Microsoft launched the Data Journalism programme. Participants in the program learn how to use Power BI in their reporting. Former journalists, data experts, and software designers teach journalists over the course of the programme.

Participants can access a web portal with supplementary material; access to the material doesn’t end after the course. There are tutorials and courses on how to fully explore Power BI (including a five-part course with data visualisation expert Albert Cairo, who explains the methodology behind graphics and how they support storytelling). Journalists can go through these courses and tutorials at their own pace, so they can learn how to best use Power BI to generate compelling data visualisations to accompany their stories.


Data Journalism in Action

Matt Cairns, a senior developer on the data and AI team at Enlighten, discussed Enlighten Design’s unique partnership with Microsoft to foster data journalism.

It all started with an app; Enlighten uploaded an app to Microsoft’s app store, and it won a people’s choice award. Microsoft selected Enlighten to work with the company on its data journalism project due to its expertise in data analytics. Enlighten went on to work with Associated Press on an initiative to add value to its news offerings.

AP journalists write articles. They collect data that accompany those articles and release the story and data as a package to news outlets. Enlighten found a way to add even more value to this offering: team members built out Power BI data visualisation templates so AP could include them in their packages. With these data visualisations, outlets that purchased packages could customise reporting to local audiences.



Matt cited an example of a story AP ran about changes in lead limits for drinking water in the US. Thanks to Power BI visualisations, readers can look at the data in a number of ways; they can see how the changes will affect Americans in various regions of the country. One of the ways the visualisation worked was by creating a phrase and inserting statistics in that phrase (for example, ’80 per cent of Californians will be exposed to higher levels of lead as a result of these changes.’).

‘Enlighten’s Power BI visualisations brought a story on changes to drinking water regulations to life.’

In addition to helping AP create a more valuable offering, Enlighten helps Microsoft train journalists on data journalism best practices. When people study journalism, their instructors don’t teach them how to use data effectively. Journalism students don’t know how to work with raw data, which is unwieldy and puzzling.

Matt explained that Enlighten team members teach journalists how to clean data so that they have accurate information with which to work. Once the data is clean, journalists learn how to play around with it to find insights. With Power BI, journalists can cross-filter the data to see what happens when they splice it in various ways.

‘Enlighten and Microsoft train journalists to utilise data effectively in their stories.’

Journalists then determine what the story is; in some cases, the story is the data itself. Matt noted that once journalists find the story, Enlighten team members teach them how they can best represent the data so people can easily understand what they’re trying to say. The right data visualisation is critical – it draws the reader or viewer’s attention and keeps them interested in the story.


Examples of Data Journalism

In addition to the drinking water story, Enlighten also worked with AP on another project in the spring of 2017. Enlighten used Power BI to create an interactive map of how communities in the US state of Virginia voted. To make the data visualisation appealing to a wider audience, Enlighten customised it so local news organisations could show their audiences voting patterns in their area.

Additionally, in October 2018, Enlighten worked with POLITICO Europe to engage voters in the 2019 EU parliamentary elections. Enlighten created a series of interactive real-time Power BI visuals to distil complex information (the EU parliamentary elections span thousands of candidates in hundreds of parties across 26 member nations) into easily digestible graphics.

‘Enlighten created Power BI visualisations to distil complex information into easy-to-digest graphics.’

A design thinking approach led Enlighten to create a horseshoe-shaped visual to model the EU parliament. It shows how the 705 member seats across the EU form a parliament. The data visualisation was interactive so that voters could run Parliament seat projections based on reliable polling data.


Enlighten Designs: Promoting Data Journalism

For over two decades, Enlighten Designs has delivered amazing digital experiences to its clients. We’re a proud Microsoft partner, and we’re honoured to partner with them to teach journalists how to leverage Power BI to enhance their stories. To learn more about Power BI, Contact Us


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