Journalism by numbers: alumnus tells stories with statistics – UofSC News & Events



If you’ve been taking to the internet for information ahead of the 2020 presidential election, chances are you are already familiar with Anna Wiederkehr’s work.

Wiederkehr, a 2012 visual communications alumna, is the senior visual reporter for FiveThirtyEight, a website that uses statistical data to explore everything from sports to politics. As the team’s design lead, she edits the work of other journalists, leads reviews, and makes sure things look like FiveThirtyEight across the board.

Having a background in journalism, as opposed to training in design or computer science, was an asset. “I have the benefit of understanding the editorial and realizing that it’s not always about the beauty of the design and the technical implementation – it’s also about whether the story is relevant and what is the editorial motivation behind why we publish it, ”she says. .

Telling stories with data has helped her create trustworthy and compelling work. “FiveThirtyEight is almost primarily data-driven work,” says Wiederkehr. “I think people are much more than willing to see us as a credible organization based on the kind of data journalism we produce.”

Her father, a geography teacher in South Carolina, took her to visit the College of Information and Communications while she was in high school. It was then that she met Associate Professor Van Kornegay.

“Anna stood out before she was a student,” says Kornegay. “I could just tell by the way she spoke that she was full of energy and full of life. I was leading a workshop on animation, and I invited her to come and learn. I quickly realized that she was really talented and that she was a fast learner.

Since then, the two have been in contact. He sees himself more as a coach to her than a mentor, encouraging her and directing her to resources and opportunities. “Being a mentor seems to have a lot to teach a person, but they are empowered,” says Kornegay. “I knew right away that she was a student who was going to be better than me very quickly.”

When Wiederkehr graduated she took a position focused on web and graphic design, but she became more interested in data visualization after a few years.

“I was making some really amazing websites and crawlable databases, but it wasn’t the same audience that a newspaper or a news website serves,” she says. “I wanted to approach it like that and try my hand at creating works for a large and large audience.”

Storytelling is an essential part of data visualization. “If you don’t know how to extract data and make a story out of it, make it accessible, memorable, or relevant to an audience, then knowing how to scrape a database and turn it into a graph isn’t necessarily that. useful unless you’re a really good storyteller, ”Kornegay says.

Wiederkehr hopes the work she does to tell these stories to FiveThirtyEight will help people make more informed decisions. “I think data is useful in this very polarizing world we live in and useful when people get a lot of different information from a bunch of different places,” she says.


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Subjects: Alumni, Faculty, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Information and Communications


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