Data Journalism: Why the Story Matters

By Lillian Pierson

The human capacity to question and understand why things are the way they are is a clear delineation point between the human species and other highly cognitive mammals. Answers to questions about why help you to make better-informed decisions. These answers help you to better structure the world around you and help you develop reasoning beyond what you need for mere survival.

In data journalism, as in all other types of business, answers to the question why help you predict how people and markets respond. These answers help you know how to proceed to achieve an outcome of most probable success. Knowing why your story matters helps you write and present it in a way that achieves the most favorable outcomes — presumably, that your readers enjoy and take tremendous value from consuming your content.

Asking why in order to generate and augment a storyline

No matter what topic you’re crafting a story around, it’s incredibly important to generate a storyline around the wants and needs of your target audience. After you know who your audience is and what needs they most often try to satisfy by consuming content, use that knowledge to help you craft your storyline. If you want to write a story and design a visualization that precisely targets the needs and wants of your readership, take the time to pinpoint why people would be interested in your story, and create a story that directly meets that desire in as many ways as possible.

Why your audience should care

People care about things that matter to them and that affect their lives. Generally, people want to feel happy and safe. They want to have fulfilling relationships. They want to have good status among their peers. People like to learn things, particularly things that help them earn more money. People like possessions and things that bring them comfort, status, and security. People like to feel good about themselves and what they do. This is all part of human nature.

The desires just described summarize why people care about anything — from the readers of your story to the person down the street. People care because it does something for them, it fills one of their core desires. Consequently, if your goal is to publish a high-performing, well-received data journalism piece, make sure to craft it in a way that fulfills one or two core desires of your target readership.