#SNDSF speakers Alissa Scheller and Hilary Fung on the balance between impact and accessibility

Alissa Scheller (left) and Hilary Fung

Alissa Scheller and Hilary Fung of the Huffington Post data team will speak together at the upcoming annual SND Workshop & Exhibition in San Francisco, April 7-9. Their session will focus on the team’s efforts to make breaking news stories and investigations more accessible through graphics and data visualization.

Tell me about the data team at Huffington Post and the projects you work on. What’s your process like from concept to publication?

We take on a variety of projects. Most of them fall into a few categories: graphics that present breaking news or news analysis, original investigations with a data component, and data visualization around big events like national elections. Our process is fluid and varies depending on the kind of story. Sometimes editors or reporters will pitch us a story with a specific angle, and we’ll work with them to figure out the best data to use and the best way to present the information. Other times, we’ll start with a topic or a dataset that looks like it has potential, and we’ll filter it or create simple charts to figure out what the story is before landing on a final visualization.

As a digital publication, I’m sure that responsive design and mobile are huge considerations as you approach new stories and graphics. How does this factor into your project selection and brainstorming?

Mobile users make up about half of our audience, and much our site is driven by traffic from social media, which brings a lot of mobile users. All of our standalone pieces are responsive, and we try to make sure embedded graphics are big enough to read on small screens. Beyond that, we can also get a little creative with what fits mobile users’ needs and habits. Story and project selection is still centrally based on whether there’s sound data and a good story, but packaging and design for different platforms always follows.


The Huffington Post’s data-driven investigation into the World Bank was an award-winning project recognized by ONA in 2015. Can you share some background on the project and your team’s contributions?

Our team gathered and cleaned data about how many people the World Bank had displaced with its development projects, and we built a web presentation with graphics to show what we found. We also had a features editor working to pull together moving pieces from reporters around the world, partnering with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalism. After we published the story, the World Bank publicly stated that it would increase funding for safeguards — it’s good to know the hard work had some impact.

Can you share some of your other favorite projects from the past year? What made them successful?

HuffPost’s feature on heroin and addiction treatment had a tangible impact on drug policy — the Obama administration has pledged to expand access to drug addiction treatment and doctors who prescribe buprenorphine, a drug used to treat heroin addiction. Our reporter, Jason Cherkis, did a phenomenal job with the story, and we were able to pull together photos of people in the story, maps and charts of national trends, and audio and video interviews into one powerful presentation.

Buprenorphine treatment

We’re also proud of a piece we did about police abuse complaints in Chicago. We wanted to do a graphic after video of a police shooting was released. The challenge was finding good, reliable data to back up our story. We ended up working with data from the Invisible Institute that showed how many police complaints came from black Chicagoans — and we were able to show with hard data what people in Chicago already knew was a big problem. The visuals turned out great, and it was exciting to use HuffPost’s platform to advance a national conversation about police violence.

We posted a longer list of favorites from 2015 on our site.

With it being an election year, graphics will continue to play a big role in upcoming coverage. What is your team doing to prepare?

We’re in the middle of the primaries, for which we’ve built a dashboard and site widgets with real-time results. Election season is also a great time to showcase HuffPost Pollster, and to do other election-related graphics, such as this simple but popular chart about Jeb Bush’s campaign spending.

Stay tuned for our coverage in November!

What will be the focus of your SNDSF talk?

Our talk will focus on data stories that have impact but are accessible to a large audience. When we looked back at our graphics coverage from the last year, we noticed that many of our best stories were about social change or marginalized communities. On those topics, we aimed to use data to advance breaking news stories and add context to well-followed ones — and we’ll the bring conversations we had to our talk at SNDSF.

Like cool people and great design? We’ll be profiling #SNDSF speakers all month. And follow the hashtag #SNDSF on twitter for more updates. To register for the workshop, which runs April 7-9 in San Francisco, click here. Space will be limited.

About Courtney Kan

is a designer at The Washington Post and the editor of SND.org.


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