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Tim Harford - photo by Emily Qualey

Economist and podcaster Tim Harford, author of How To Make The World Add Up, spoke to MA Data Journalism students this month. In a guest post for OJB Niels de Hoog rounds up Tim’s tips on creating compelling number-driven stories for radio and podcasts.

Orson Welles famously said that there’s nothing an audience won’t understand, as long as you can get them to be interested.

Listening to Tim Harford’s podcasts it is clear that he has taken this message to heart.

“If you’ve got a hook, a personality, or a question people want answered, that will carry people through a certain degree of complexity that they wouldn’t tolerate if it was reported straight.”


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The article features rich illustrations — bringing the story to life.

While starting to explore interactivity within journalistic writing, I came across a visual essay on the physical traits that define men & women in literature.

In the essay, the author makes effective use of interactivity to illustrate the concepts described in the story.

From the start, the reader is given a sense of place, with rich illustrations taking them first into the world of a book, and then the world of the narrator as they are researching the article.

Adding to this effect is the fact that the author is both the speaking subject and the subject of speech.


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NowThis did a video explaining how the U.S. can become more bike-friendly.

Recently I wrote an article on the large number of cycle trips that took place in the UK this year. To get an idea of how this story might have been told as a video, I analysed a similar story, published by NowThis as a video on YouTube.

This video by NowThis, on how the United States can become more bike-friendly, is an example of a story being told through video. It stands on its own, rather than illustrating or adding to a story that is told through another medium.

As a social media-focused news organisation, NowThis speaks to a constructed audience that is relatively young. This is reflected in the lighthearted tone of the video. Upbeat music and an energetic presenter are meant to keep the attention of an audience that expects to be entertained. …


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Carmen Aguilar García

As the first data journalist at Sky News, Carmen had her work cut out for her — trying to teach her colleagues about the value of data-driven storytelling.

“Many people across the newsroom wanted to work with me from the start, but few really knew how to,” she says.

Carmen ended up making long hours, trying to meet the demands of a newsroom hungry for someone who knew how to crunch the numbers and tell a good story about them.

It’s not like she wasn’t prepared at all. She had spent the previous year learning about data journalism from Paul Bradshaw, a man she describes as “An expert in the field”. …


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During the height of the pandemic, the number of cycling trips in England doubled compared to before, according to statistics from the Department for Transport.

The biggest number of cycling trips took place in May, but April and June were also popular months for two-wheeled transport. Since then, bicycle usage has dropped again, but it is still significantly higher than it was before the pandemic.

A new era for cycling

Following this uptake in popularity, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced a £2 billion investment in cycling and walking infrastructure, with the aim of relieving pressure on public transport:

“We know cars will continue to remain vital for many, but as we look to the future we must build a better country with greener travel habits, cleaner air and healthier communities.”


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The amount of FFP2 and FFP3 masks distributed each month in the UK.

When you have a set of temporal data in Excel, in can sometimes be useful to analyse this data on a month by month basis. The image above, for example, shows how many FFP2 and FFP3 were distributed in the UK each month since the start of the pandemic.

The original data, as recently released by the UK government, does not include these kinds of aggregate statistics. It lists the amount of distributed personal protective equipment (PPE) items separately for each day.

This tutorial will show you how to get from the raw data to the summary as shown above.

Step 1: download the data

Download the data to follow along with the tutorial. …


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Planet Money is part of the NPR family.

The Planet Money podcast encourages its audience to engage with complex economic principles in a fun and lighthearted way. For data journalists, this is an interesting case study, as they are faced with similar challenges — such as how to tell a compelling story based on a spreadsheet full of numbers.

When This American Life first aired an episode called “The Giant Pool Of Money”, the full scale of the 2008 financial crisis was just starting to become visible. In the episode, NPR’s Adam Davidson and This American Life producer Alex Blumberg explain how the trouble on Wall Street is directly related to the US housing crisis. …


“There’s something about making tricky concepts easy to understand.”

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Playing the piano at the level that Callum Thomson did requires an enormous attention to detail. Day after day he would sit down at a piano, and play for hours, trying to work out the best way to bring the music to life — striving for a level of perfection that was never quite attainable. This intense focus, and dealing with the pressure of needing to perform on stage, is what propelled him through his impressive career.

What started with a degree in music, ended up as a job as the head of data journalism at the Office for National Statistics (ONS). An unlikely journey as this may seem, it starts to make more sense when you dig a bit deeper. …


Since I’ve been working on a static site generator called Spelt, I thought it would be useful to take a look at the internals of Jekyll and see how all its pieces fit together. As I was doing this, I realized that this information might also be useful for someone using Jekyll for their site, so I decided to write up my findings here.

Please note that I am not an expert on how Jekyll works. I haven’t actually written any code for it. I’m just an outside observer of the project. …


While everyone agrees that the API for Key-Value Observing in Objective-C is terrible, it is also an essential part of a Cocoa developer’s toolbelt, especially when considering that many system provided frameworks rely on it to expose parts of their functionality.

Swift doesn’t allow us to observe properties of another object and respond to changes to that property like KVO does. It does however allow us to hook into the Cocoa implementation of KVO by virtue of Swift’s interoperability with Objective-C. …

Niels de Hoog

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