The pandemic has put data journalism to the test and shown us that facts and figures can bring news to life

Tuesday 6 July 2021

John Ryley, Head of Sky News

New research shows that audiences wants facts and figures to understand news coverage of Covid-19 and the vaccine

“Data not dates.” We’ve heard that phrase a lot lately. It has come to define the debate about Covid restrictions.

It has also had a deeper effect. It has changed how we consume news and information about this pandemic and understand its impact on our lives.

The flood of information about Covid in the form of facts and figures has forced governments around the world to rely on data for planning, managing, and communicating with their citizens.

They took a risk. There was no guarantee that data in this form would cut through to the public.

Health officials and politicians hoped that people would grasp that there’s a story behind the numbers, and that 8,000 daily cases isn’t just an abstract figure – it’s that many new lives impacted – and change their behaviour accordingly.

From new cases, the R number, vaccinations administered (first doses and second doses), hospitalisations and, sadly, deaths, those of us consuming news about Covid have had to wrap our heads around more data, more quickly than at any other time in recent history.

We now know that risk paid off. New research conducted by YouGov suggests that the vast majority of adults (73%) do indeed look for facts and figures to help them understand the pandemic.

They also trust news more if it contains this kind of data.

Seven out of 10 people are more likely to trust news coverage on both Covid-19 and the vaccine if it includes facts and figures to back it up.

Perhaps, we’re now so familiar with discussing the data behind the story, that the public prefer to hear from Professor Whitty and Van-Tam over traditional ministerial voices?

At Sky News, we believe that the appetite for data and trusted journalism has never been bigger. So it makes complete sense that we have been putting it at the forefront of what we do.

Breaking news has always been second nature to us, but we believe the future of journalism will be about putting data at the heart of our news gathering and reporting.

In recent years, we have invested in new talent and technology to meet this need, and our work has already been recognised as our Data and Economics Editor, Ed Conway, was named Data Journalist of the Year by the Wincott Foundation for interpreting data on the pandemic.

We know that this is what our audiences want from their news too.

YouGov’s research has also recorded a shift in how audiences see the importance of data in their news coverage, particularly on stories which they feel are highly emotive.

Over 6 in 10 (63%) of those people surveyed, say that the Covid-19 pandemic has made them realise the importance of facts and figures to help them understand emotional news stories.

At Sky News we have no agenda – whatsoever - and will always ensure you can trust our news service to bring you impartial insight and information.

None of us in the media should underestimate the British public’s hunger for expertise and data.

Perhaps the UK isn’t so ‘anti-expert’ after all, and that is no bad thing for the future of quality journalism.

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