Saturday, August 24, 2019

Data 'essays', not data 'stories'

Eric William Lin favors the term “data essay”, rather than “data story”, to refer to data and visualization-driven narrative and explanatory pieces, particularly those in news media or in publications such as The Pudding—which indeed calls its projects “essays”. In the same conversation on Twitter, Kim Rees replied that she prefers “data documentary’; she has a talk about it.

Data journalist and statistician Harkanwal Singh added:
Story is vague and in journalism tradition, are considered definite statements with no alternate interpretations. Data vis essay is more honest, it is one attempt at an explanation.
I agree. “Essay” sounds appropriate and more precise than “story”, as Lin himself wrote. I hope it'll catch on, although I doubt it will, considering how ingrained “storytelling” is in journalism, marketing, and even business analytics. “Essay” suggests a principled, reasoned, but also limited or even personal piece of argumentation that doesn't attempt to be the last word about anything, but to be a part in an ongoing conversation. I like that.

(This is a good time to remind everyone of Lorenzo Amabili's recent article for Nightingale, Joshua Smith's piece, and Jon Schwabish's 5-part series about ‘storytelling’ in visualization.)