Webinar held on 9 March 2021, 11:00 - 12:30 CET during CIRCOM's Learning From A Global Pandemic week-long programme of interactive Zoom sessions, 8 - 12 March 2021

Over the last year, broadcasters have been faced with the unenviable task of processing huge amounts of complicated data and statistics related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding and interpreting the figures, and then communicating this accurately to the audience is a challenge.

This session was hosted by Zoran Medved from the broadcaster RTV Slovenia, a country in which a volunteer group created the COVID-19 Tracker, to help collate and model statistical information related to the pandemic. Two of its members - Andraž Zorko and Andrej Srakar were joined by the Head of BBC England’s data unit, Robert England for this session, to explain how important statistics have been to broadcasters over the last year.

One of the key points raised by Andraž Zorko was the need for an independent, impartial body to accurately interpret the coronavirus figures in Slovenia, rather than simply report the numbers provided by the Slovenian health authorities and government at face value. By taking the data and using modelling tools, the team have been able to provide much more accurate figures for the citizens of the the country - and their independence has resulted in high levels of public trust, which is particularly important in a politically polarised country.

In the UK the BBC had to act quickly to create a platform for their journalists to use across the various regions of the country to convey the data to their audiences. COVID-19 data is provided by the UK government via their “Coronavirus Dashboard”, but there are many other data sources which needed to be included in the figures supplied for broadcast. And furthermore, the data now includes the vaccination rollout, as well as the infection and mortality rates. The dedication of the data team has played a large role in the boost to audience numbers across the BBC regions, with local audiences relying on daily reporting of the micro- local figures for their areas.

Robert England believes that as a result of the crisis data journalism is becoming a more accepted part of news output: “The pandemic has made audiences more receptive to stats, and to data visualisations in news stories, and I think audiences will now expect more data in news.” Andraž Zorko agrees: “We need data specialists in journalism.

crunching data