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Data on the radio: How to turn numbers into characters in your story

By Anadil Iftekhar

Data is boring. Numbers are confusing. Limit them, hide them, focus more on people. Haven’t you been hearing this a lot lately? 

“We are here to say you shouldn’t do that,” said Will Craft. Craft and his colleague, Madeleine Baran, work at American Public Media. In a 2017 CAR Conference panel, they sat with Michael Corey from Reveal to discuss how data could be made more attractive and easy for audio journalism.

Baran and Craft discussed how they covered crime clearance rates on their investigative podcast, "In The Dark." The nine-episode show looks at how law enforcement mishandled the Jacob Wetterling child abduction. The conversation about clearance rates was light and conversational, even though the material was grave. 

In the podcast, Craft was the "adventure seeker," who would come back and discuss his findings with Baran on the show. He would discuss and explain the numbers, creating suspense and developing the story.

Corey played music to tell a numbers story. For data on Oklahoma’s earthquakes, his team, including a sound engineer, used Python and data sonification mixed with piano notes – the audio version of data visualization. The music notes amplified accordingly.

The panel stressed that casual conversations, drama, suspense, music and data can make for rich storytelling you simply can’t convey in print.

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