Data should not overcomplicate your story: An interview with Tegan Bedser

November 24, 2022

In Tegan's experience effective communication is important for good quality data journalism. Whether on digital platforms, broadcast, radio, or print, using data should not detract from the main message. Tegan shares her experience, some tips and her favourite data journalism podcasts.

Tegan Bedser is a project manager for training and editorial projects at Media Hack Collective (MHC). She describes herself as a hybrid professional in the media and journalism space. What does this mean? For Tegan, it means being a bridge between the editorial, design, training and digital divisions in an organisation or newsroom. We interviewed Tegan about her journey into data journalism and her career history, and here’s what we can all learn from her.

Effective communication is still at the heart of good journalism

According to CourseSA, effective communication is clear, correct, complete, concise, and compassionate. And when we communicate effectively, both the sender and receiver feel satisfied. Five decades ago in South Africa, journalism was mostly limited to print, radio, and television. However, over the past two decades journalism has become very broad and diverse. Despite all the changes and introduction of digital platforms, effective communication is still at the heart of good journalism. Her  ability to communicate effectively with diverse audiences regardless of the medium has enabled her to adapt and grow in the evolving media space.  

Tegan’s current role as a project manager for training and editorial projects at Media Hack Collective is built on years of working as a writer, media specialist, training facilitator, project manager and product owner. She has treated the changes in the journalism and publishing space as an opportunity to acquire new information, tools, skills and audiences.

Data shouldn’t over complicate a story, the message should still be clear.

Tegan is aware that “information can be easily overwhelming”. This increases the need for journalists and media practitioners to have a clear idea of what they want to communicate and with whom they want to communicate. 

The content of a story, the data, interviews and research as well as the tone and language used should have a clear purpose, it should not be published for the sake of publishing. As a journalist, ask yourself: what is the point of this story, what will it do for my audience? 

  • Is it supposed to tell the audience something that they don't know? Is it for entertainment? Is it to elicit emotion or squash emotion? 
  • Will it inspire the audience to ask more questions, take action, or investigate? 

Accuracy is at the core of effective communication and journalism

To ensure credibility, the content of your story needs to be able to stand up to scrutiny, especially the data and quoted subjects. There is hardly any point in doing great storytelling with incorrect information.

Although she has more than a decade of experience in the journalism space, Tegan still relies on other experts to verify the consistency and accuracy of data she works with or uses in her storytelling, training and publications. Tegan believes that “there's nothing wrong with reaching out to an expert and making 100% sure that you're on the right track and that the logic that you've applied is sound.” 

Difference between data journalism and traditional journalism

“Data journalists are slightly different from traditional journalists who would go out and talk to interview subjects and get confirmation both from and about their sources.” Data journalists let the data lead them, but like all journalists, they still have the task of developing a hypothesis, narrowing the focus, and using a relatable narrative voice

“Data journalists are slightly different from traditional journalists who would go out and talk to interview subjects and get confirmation both from and about their sources.”

Traditional journalism is often triggered by an event or a series of events that a journalist will then follow to reveal the truth or status of a story. Data journalism on the other hand may start with a hypothesis or a research question, in data journalism data is used as the source of truth together with traditional journalism elements like interviews with subjects and visual media. Whether the data verifies or disproves the hypothesis is where the story lies.

Using data to elicit the theatre of the mind in audio and radio journalism

Whether a story is meant to entertain, inform or engage, storytelling using audio is about capturing the theatre of the mind.  Tegan was first introduced to the concept of capturing the theatre of the mind by a colleague, who was an editor at SABC radio at the time, who spoke about the way that radio captures the theatre of the mind and how it makes listeners visualise the story. Tegan believes that the challenge of doing data journalism on radio or using audio may be unique, but it is not impossible. “I think of ways of speaking to [different] kinds of audiences, and it's about the theatre of the mind and how can you get someone to enter that world and expand on it.” With data journalism in radio and audio, journalists can still tell a story that is based on data and you can tell it in such a way that your audience can create a mental image of the topic at hand using words.

“I think of ways of speaking to [different] kinds of audiences, and it's about the theatre of the mind and how can you get someone to enter that world and expand on it.”

Tegan’s favourite data journalism podcasts:

Data journalism is radio and audio in South Africa and Africa is still in its infancy, but Tegan believes that journalists can use data to pull news stories. Journalists can also share related graphics or charts related to a story on digital and social platforms to accompany their stories. These are a few of Tegan’s favourite podcasts:

Am I normal? with Mona Chalabi

One of Tegan’s favourites, hosted by the endlessly curious data journalist Mona Chalabi. Mona Chalabi is driven by the need to know and she’s ready to dive into the numbers to get some answers. Mona uses studies, spreadsheets to fulfil her need to know. She also consults experts, strangers, and even her mum to fill in the gaps. The answers might surprise you, and make you ask: does normal even exist?

The Data Journalism Podcast with Alberto Cairo & Simon Rogers

Alberto Cairo and Simon Rogers explore the latest in data journalism and have conversations with world’s top data journalists to find out how they do what they do.

If you are inspired by how Tegan uses data and effective communication or want to learn more from the journalists in our network, sign up here to receive the ADH newsletter and be among the first to find out when our next training and fellowship applications are announced.

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