There is only one way to create bulletproof a data-driven story: thoroughness.
Mark J. Rochester, deputy managing editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, presented ACES national conference attendees Friday with a series of steps and tools that can help publications generate factually sound, data-driven stories.
The writing of a data-driven story will actually begin long before any data is queried or requested or analyzed. It begins with a journalist who notices an anomaly or has an experience that turns into a story. Writers and editors have to collaborate at every level of writing from the earliest draft to the published version.
Before data analysis begins, writers should determine the story’s value beyond the numbers. There has to be more to the story than statistics. One approach to tell what the statistics tell us about society’s problems?
Although some copy editors feel about data and numbers as Superman feels about kryptonite, we can’t leave checking these facts up to writers. It takes a team.
Fact-checking data-driven stories begins with asking lots of questions. Asking questions is something copy editors do well. To start ask, is the data:
Once you’ve thoroughly vetted the data, you can employ tools such as Excel to do most of the heavy math lifting for you. As a team, writers and editors just have ensure that the tools are used properly.
Rochester said writers and editors should confer and use the line-by-line editing model to ensure that every word of a story is sound. They need to keep track of the internal logic behind the analysis in case they later have to explain their conclusions.
Copy editing is not for the lazy. And when it comes to data stories, there’s no substitute for thorough research and slow, careful, line-by-line editing.
Dilane Mitchell is a student at DePaul University.