Organisation: Quartz (United States)

Publication Date: 04/09/2016


Size of team/newsroom:large


At Quartz we sometimes say charts are our equivalent of cat photos. Readers can't get enough of them. Data is a central feature of our journalism, and before we published our first story we built an in-house tool, Chartbuilder, that allowed every journalist to create clear, simple, and good-looking charts, so that our newsroom wouldn’t need a graphics desk. Rather than fill paragraphs with stodgy series of numbers, we encourage our writers, where possible, to “write with charts.” Some of our posts consist of little else. In 2014 alone we published nearly 4,000 charts on Quartz. We also open-sourced Chartbuilder on GitHub, and it’s been used by other news organizations including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In 2015 we took our charting to the next level by launching Atlas, a standalone charting site. Now, every chart is published first on Atlas. Most are then embedded on Quartz, but some are standalone stories in themselves. Our users can share them with a click, and unlike with most other news outlets, can also download the data behind them, embed them on their own websites (we encourage stealing!), and search our entire charts database on Atlas by topic. The charts themselves are responsive, adjusting their format according to whether they’re being viewed on a desktop, tablet or mobile screen. All this is in line with our philosophy of “Quartz as an API”—the idea that our journalism should be able to exist in as many forms and on as many platforms as possible, never tied down to any particular format. Since launching Atlas in June 2015, we’ve published roughly 5,000 charts. They have been viewed 40 million times times by 16 million readers on Quartz and other websites where the charts are embedded. We think the potential for Atlas as a platform is even larger than what we've already achieved.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Atlas deepens Quartz's journalism by offering readers better access to the data and visualizations in so many of our stories. It also extends the reach of our journalism by letting others make use of our charts in new ways. To start, all of the charts are made by Quartz staff and select contributors. In time, as we build out the platform, we are hoping to let anyone make charts in Atlas. What it does: Atlas gives each of our charts its own home, along with a set of tools for interacting with them: You can now download the data behind our charts, embed our charts elsewhere on the web, grab an image of our charts, and of course share our charts on social media. They will look great regardless of whether you’re using a big screen or mobile device. Some features of Atlas, like search and tag pages, will get much better as we amass a larger collection of charts. Why we built it: Charts have always played an integral role in our journalism; We also know that our readers love charts and love sharing them. Charts are our cat photos. Often the best way to tell a story is visually. With Atlas, we wanted to make it easier for readers to share our charts by acknowledging that these simple data visualizations can easily stand on their own, with their own pages and ability to spread across the web. Atlas chart pages and embeds are also more useful than flat image files because they can offer context and, crucially, provide the data behind them for further analysis.

Technologies used for this project:

Chartbuilder, JavaScript, Node.js, D3.js, React.js We make everything in Atlas using Chartbuilder, our in-house tool for quickly creating good-looking charts in a consistent style. It simplifies and speeds up some of the more maddening aspects of chart creation, empowering our entire newsroom to serve as its own graphics desk. See here for more info: Chartbuilder has improved a lot since we open-sourced the tool two years ago, thanks to the many people who have contributed to it and related projects. Lots of newsrooms, from NPR to FiveThirtyEight to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, have also made use of Chartbuilder for their own needs, which gave us confidence that there is large demand for such a service.
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