VIDAN Visual and dynamic arrangements of narratives

At the intersection of data visualization, digital storytelling, and urban infrastructure, VIDAN ("Visual and Dynamic Arrangements of Narratives - Visuelle und dynamische Arrangements von Nachrichten") was an interdisciplinary research project devoted to the design, development and evaluation of data-based article formats. It aimed to create novel interaction and visualization techniques for the visual explanation and interactive exploration of complex data.



The structure of news articles has hardly changed with the spread of online media. While some newsrooms have started to invest into the creation of long-reads and so-called scrollytelling pieces, the bulk of articles online is relatively conventional. Though social media are playing an increasing role in the distribution, news articles remain mostly static, linear and isolated. The content of articles usually remains fixed and makes no reference to the current temporal and spatial situation of the reader. To develop and evaluate innovative techniques of visualizing news articles and narratives, the VIDAN research project experiments with new formats of article preparation and presentation. In close cooperation with domain experts and analysts and within the framework of user-centered design, concepts of data-based storytelling are investigated, developed in the form of functional prototypes, and evaluated with authors and readers. We will use the city as a framework to investigate how data-based narratives are changing our ways to analyze and communicate  complex issues and their consequences.

Cities are complex organisms, different stakeholders and entities shape its form and rhythm. As humans and citizens we experience the city everyday by navigating its complexity and moving through it. In the last few years, our cities have become more and more intertwined with technologies that help us navigate this complexity and services that enrich our city experience. Those technologies are also generating a great amount of data and information that can be used to investigate the city further. Over the course of three years, the sectors mobility, water and waste will be covered as integral parts of urban infrastructure. Together with civity, a German consultancy company specialized in the public sector, we will use data-based narratives to open a discussion on the changing face of the city.

VIDAN is a research project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung) and a cooperation with civity Consulting Group.

Publications Associated Publications

Sensing What’s New: Considering Ethics When Using Sensor Data in Journalistic Practices

— Digital Journalism, 2023
As data are becoming increasingly central to journalistic practice, a number of technology-driven approaches are emerging among data journalists. This article focuses on sensor journalism, which brings new practical and ethical concerns to journalism. By interviewing and working with data journalists and journalism scholars, we analyze the new technological and ethical challenges that sensors bring to journalism. The results contribute to the knowledge on how data journalists implicitly embed ethical values into their everyday work. Furthermore, they suggest that general ethical values are revisited and extended by the influence of sensors.

Disclosure as a critical-feminist design practice for Web-based data stories

— First Monday. 27:11, 2022
We present findings from design research on disclosure at the intersection of data visualization, digital storytelling, and feminism. While there is an increased awareness of power structures in data science, computing, and design, there is little design research to confront these. This work explores the potential of disclosing context information of data stories, i.e., digital storytelling formats utilizing data visualizations, to enable critical-feminist readings of and reflections on these stories. Drawing from a growing body of feminist scholarship in human-computer interaction, data science, and beyond, we identify key aspects and forms of disclosure for embedding them into visual data story interfaces. We devise and validate these aspects and forms within a case study: a Web-based scrollytelling article explaining the feminist concept of intersectionality using a combination of animated illustration, data visualization, and text. With this work, we demonstrate and discuss the potentials and pitfalls of disclosure practices in data storytelling.

Attitudinal effects of data visualizations and illustrations in data stories

— IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 2023
Journalism has become more data-driven and inherently visual in recent years. Photographs, illustrations, infographics, data visualizations, and general images help convey complex topics to a wide audience. The way that visual artifacts influence how readers form an opinion beyond the text is an important issue to research, but there are few works about this topic. In this context, we research the persuasive, emotional and memorable dimensions of data visualizations and illustrations in journalistic storytelling for long-form articles. We conducted a user study and compared the effects which data visualizations and illustrations have on changing attitude towards a presented topic. While visual representations are usually studied along one dimension, in this experimental study, we explore the effects on readers' attitudes along three: persuasion, emotion, and information retention. By comparing different versions of the same article, we observe how attitudes differ based on the visual stimuli present, and how they are perceived when combined. Results indicate that the narrative using only data visualization elicits a stronger emotional impact than illustration-only visual support, as well as a significant change in the initial attitude about the topic. Our findings contribute to a growing body of literature on how visual artifacts may be used to inform and influence public opinion and debate. We present ideas for future work to generalize the results beyond the domain studied, the water crisis.

Data Journalism as “Terra Incognita”: Newcomers’ Tensions in Shifting Towards Data Journalism Epistemology

— Journalism Practice, 2023
This article investigates data journalism epistemology through Michel Foucault’s definition of power. The growing demand for data-savvy reporters with computational skills has been proven to shift the newsrooms’ culture in media companies across the globe. Previous research has documented journalists’ shift towards a data-centred epistemology and the increasingly important role of computation and data-driven practices in newsrooms. By focusing on inexperienced journalists as they mobilise data journalism for the first time, this research openly discusses its epistemology as a form of Foucauldian power: which epistemological tensions – individual or structural – emerge among newcomers when reporting extensively with data? The article presents the case of a newly formed data journalism team at taz, a German cooperative media company. It is based on qualitative data collected through action research, namely six in-depth interviews, auto-ethnographic notes and self-reflective inquiries. Data are framed through Foucault’s concepts of power and will to truth. Results show the discord between data journalism epistemology and its practical implementation. Despite prioritising democratic access to data, technologies and non-hierarchical forms of cooperation, data journalism remains largely dependent on traditional methods and culture.

Data Stories of Water: Studying the Communicative Role of Data Visualizations within Long-form Journalism

— Computer Graphics Forum (Proc. EuroVis). 42(3), 2023
We present a methodology for making sense of the communicative role of data visualizations in journalistic storytelling and share findings from surveying water-related data stories. Data stories are a genre of long-form journalism that integrate text, data visualization, and other visual expressions (e.g., photographs, illustrations, videos) for the purpose of data-driven storytelling. In the last decade, a considerable number of data stories about a wide range of topics have been published worldwide. Authors use a variety of techniques to make complex phenomena comprehensible and use visualizations as communicative devices that shape the understanding of a given topic. Despite the popularity of data stories, we, as scholars, still lack a methodological framework for assessing the communicative role of visualizations in data stories. To this extent, we draw from data journalism, visual culture, and multimodality studies to propose an interpretative framework in six stages. The process begins with the analysis of content blocks and framing elements and ends with the identification of dimensions, patterns, and relationships between textual and visual elements. The framework is put to the test by analyzing 17 data stories about water-related issues. Our observations from the survey illustrate how data visualizations can shape the framing of complex topics.

From shock to shift: Data visualization for constructive climate journalism

— IEEE VIS / TVCG: IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 2023
We present a multi-dimensional, multi-level, and multi-channel approach to data visualization for the purpose of constructive climate journalism. Data visualization has assumed a central role in environmental journalism and is often used in data stories to convey the dramatic consequences of climate change and other ecological crises. However, the emphasis on the catastrophic impacts of climate change tends to induce feelings of fear, anxiety, and apathy in readers. Climate mitigation, adaptation, and protection—all highly urgent in the face of the climate crisis—are at risk of being overlooked. These topics are more difficult to communicate as they are hard to convey on varying levels of locality, involve multiple interconnected sectors, and need to be mediated across various channels from the printed newspaper to social media platforms. So far, there has been little research on data visualization to enhance affective engagement with data about climate protection as part of solution-oriented reporting of climate change. With this research we characterize the unique challenges of constructive climate journalism for data visualization and share findings from a research and design study in collaboration with a national newspaper in Germany. Using the affordances and aesthetics of travel postcards, we present Klimakarten, a data journalism project on the progress of climate protection at multiple spatial scales (from national to local), across five key sectors (agriculture, buildings, energy, mobility, and waste), and for print and online use. The findings from quantitative and qualitative analysis of reader feedback confirm our overall approach and suggest implications for future work.
Francesca Morini
Jonas Arndt
Marian Dörk
Manuela Garretón
Tobias Kauer
Lena Zagora
Meraj Sherafi
Hannah Schwan
Anna Eschenbacher
Johanna Hartmann
Kerstin Humm
Mariana Reinhardt