News publishers have discovered the value of data-based storytelling in recent years. Currently, Hearst has a Central Interactive Team (or DevHub, for short), which is operated out of the San Francisco Chronicle. The team of seven is under the leadership of Tim O’Rourke, director of product and strategy. It is made up of workers with different journalism backgrounds and skill sets, including photographers and data analysts. The team creates interactive graphics, data-driven stories and visual projects for all five of Hearst’s newspaper markets in San Francisco, Houston, San Antonio, Connecticut, and Albany, N.Y.
Neeraj Khemlani, a vice president at Hearst and the executive vice president and deputy group head of Hearst Newspapers, explained that once the company understood the power of data-based storytelling, they began to experiment with it across all of their newspaper properties.
Last year, the small but mighty team helped Hearst newsrooms publish 1,100 projects, according to O’Rourke. Ideas originate from both the DevHub and newsrooms. The team helps produce these pieces as well as enable newsrooms to produce their own interactive pieces. O’Rourke explained that the team has developed a series of templates that allow any editor, reporter or photographer to design and publish their own project, from interactive map guides to audience engagement modules and graphics. For instance, the Chronicle’s Coronavirus Tracker was one of the company’s most successful pages, with 10 million visits (it continues to be updated daily).
“When we do the interactive storytelling, we see about four times or more engagement time per major project,” O’Rourke said.
Due to its success of data-based storytelling, the company’s goal is to now hire 15 data journalists. They include a data editor, data reporter and data developer in each market.
Readers can expect the revamped team to help Hearst produce in-depth reporting, O’Rourke said. “I think you’ll see far more projects and stories really dig deep into the topics and issues of the moment. From climate change, to race and equity, to COVID-19, to political climate, both locally and nationally. These teams will be looking at those stories and telling them in a fact-based way.”
In an everchanging media landscape, Khemlani explained the importance of making this kind of investment in journalism.
“The idea of creating unique, valuable experiences to our readers resonated with (our CEO Steve Swartz), and the investment to expand across all of our papers was something that he fully supported and helped us invest,” Khemlani said.
O’Rourke added, “From a journalist’s perspective, it’s refreshing to work for a company that’s willing to invest in the health of local journalism, and that’s exactly what this is.”