How The Economist uses its 12-person data journalism team to drive subscriptions

The Economist knows charts and data visualizations play a number of key roles, like reaching new audiences to drive back to its site and helping to bolster its credence.

Speaking to Digiday, Alex Selby-Boothroyd, The Economist’s head of data journalism, says, “Data journalism is important to us, and it’s getting more prevalent in general, driven by better and quicker access to data,” he said. “More people who don’t work in data journalism are using the tools.”

The publisher has created charts for some 12 years online and 30 years in print, but only since the end of last year has it focused on getting them out to a wider audience on social media by hiring a dedicated data journalist, Marie Segger, to join Selby-Boothroyd’s team of 12 data journalists.

The team now creates up to seven longer stories a week that contain several charts, each published online, and up to five longer stories for the print paper. For instance, a recent chart detailing the rise of profane language on the forum Mumsnet was created in two hours and printed in the magazine after news broke that advertisers had pulled ads.

Creating charts for social requires tweaking. Usually, The Economist encourages readers to spend up to a minute understanding a chart on the site or in print. On social, that kind of dwell time is impossible, so the team works to strip each chart down to make just one clear point so readers get the sense from scrolling through.

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