In researching and writing about climate change, expect to encounter a lot of data. Data is good to use to prove facts in your article. However, the challenge is choosing which data to use and how to present them. Just like jargons, data may not be easily understood by the public.
Before you use data in your story, ask yourself these questions:
- Will this data make my story better?
- What will the purpose of this data be? Is it the headline of my story? Will I use it to back-up another information or an opinion?
If you’ve decided that you need the data for your story, the next challenge is how to use this data. If you write, “In 2010, the United States’ carbon emissions, reached X metric tons.” But what does X metric tons mean? How can your readers understand that data better? How can you relate it to their lives?
Martin Rosenbaum from BBC, has these tips to help you make use of your data (http://datajournalismhandbook.org/1.0/en/understanding_data_5.html):
“Data journalism can sometimes give the impression that it is mainly about presentation of data — such as visualizations which quickly and powerfully convey an understanding of an aspect of the figures, or interactive searchable databases which allow individuals to look up say their own local street or hospital. All this can be very valuable, but like other forms of journalism, data journalism should also be about stories. So what are the kinds of stories you can find in data? Based on my experience at the BBC, I have drawn up a list or ‘typology’ of different kinds of data stories.”
“In 2010, the United States’ carbon emissions, reached X metric tons.”
Rosenbaum says this kind of data is “often difficult to know if that’s a lot or a little.” And for this we need context which can be provided by “typology”:
“In 2010, the United States contributed to 27% of the world’s carbon emissions.”
- Internal comparison
“The United States remains to be one of top 5 countries that contribute to ⅔ of the world’s carbon emissions.”
- External comparison
“In 2010, the United States carbon emissions is more than the carbon emissions of 159 countries combined”
- Change over time
“The United States’ carbon emissions has been increasing at 2.5% every year.”
- Analysis by categories
“Developed countries like the United States contribute to 66% of the world’s total carbon emissions.”
- ‘League tables’
These are often geographical or by institution, and you must make sure the basis for comparison is fair, e.g. taking into account the size of the local population.
“The United States emit carbon more than double the global average per person.”
‘States run by republicans such as Montana, Kentucky, Wyoming, West Virginia, Nebraska, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, and Tenesse emit most of the country’s carbon emissions.’
But, of course, always remember that correlation and causation are not the same thing.