Statistical Excellence in Journalism Awards 2020: Winners 

We are thrilled to announce this year’s Statistical Excellence in Journalism Award winners. The awards, now in their fourteenth year, are kindly sponsored by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

The categories are:  

  • Data visualisation  
  • Explaining the facts 
  • Investigative journalism 
  • Regional journalism 

Professor Jennifer Rogers, RSS VP for external affairs, said: 'Every year we celebrate the outstanding work of our media in their use of statistics to look at the biggest stories that affect society. During my time as chair of the judging panel I have always been very impressed by the accessible and informative way in which entrants convey often complex datasets. I am pleased to say that this year is no different. I want to offer my congratulations to our winners and runners-up for their fantastic work.' 

Professor Jennifer Rubin, executive chair, Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), said: 'ESRC is pleased to support the RSS Statistical Excellence in Journalism Awards again this year and I congratulate all the winners heartily. Using reliable and robust evidence clearly and accessibly is so important to inform the public, and to build both trust and understanding across a range of societal issues.'

The awards are given as follows:

Data visualisation 

Winner: The Millions Who Left , Christian Bangel, Paul Blickle, Elena Erdmann, Philip Faigle, Andreas Loos, Julian Stahnke, Julius Tröger, Sascha Venohr – Zeit Online 
This project looks into the migration data of those who moved between east and west Germany from 1991 - the first full year after the reunification of Germany - to 2017. While it is a well-known phenomenon, this analysis, using data from Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, details where people moved to and the scale of the exodus. The judging panel found the issue had been quantified vividly, with superb interactive graphics and easy-to-understand charts. They were also impressed by the inclusion of a useful section describing the sources and methodologies used, which highlighted limitations and assumptions made.  

Highly Commended: How the UK transformed its electricity supply in just a decade, Rosamund Pearce, Leo Hickman, Simon Evans – Carbon Brief   
This interactive article shows the dramatic change in the way the UK has generated its electricity over the past decade. The graphs allow the reader to examine in detail how the UK had in 2019, nearly ended its reliance on coal. Using six databases and almost 850,000 data points, the piece maps the shift from a handful of coal-fired giants towards hundreds of windfarms and thousands of solar rooftops. The panel found the piece visually arresting and a powerful demonstration of how statistics can be used to describe changes in society.  

Highly Commended: Sonification: turning the yield curve into music, Alan Smith – Financial Times   
This article looks into the strengths and weaknesses of the yield curve, which is widely used to display economic data. As well as using an animation to provide a view of data covering a 40-year period of US economic history, it also employs a completely new method of transforming time series data into arpeggiated musical pitches. The judging panel were impressed with the original choice of topic and the interesting use of data and exploration of how to present them.  

Explaining the facts 

Winner: Do we really have a ‘suicidal generation’? , Tom Chivers – UnHerd 

In this article, Tom looked into an alarming claim made in an UK newspaper that suicide among teenagers had “nearly doubled in eight years” and that social media was largely to blame. His investigation into the figures found that this was a case of extreme ‘cherry picking’ - having taken the lowest year for teen suicides on record as its baseline and then inflated its apparent growth. The piece also highlighted the lack of evidence around the links between social media and mental health. The judging panel were impressed with how a prominent headline was challenged and a full and interesting explanation was given on how numbers can be manipulated in such ways, while missing the important caveats.  

Highly Commended – General election poll tracker: How do the parties compare? – BBC News   
Across TV, radio and online news, this BBC team focussed on educating the public about uncertainty by highlighting the issue in electoral polling figures and trends. With their poll tracker they added explicit margins of error and created an animated presentation that showed the possible valuables of support for each party, which allowed them to explain in simple terms what uncertainty means. The judging panel were impressed with this concerted effort to highlight to different audiences the limitations around polling but also how it can be a useful indicator.  

Investigative journalism 

Winner: Afghanistan war: Tracking the killings in August 2019, BBC Afghan Service, BBC Uzbek service, Auliya Atrafi, Ben Allen, Nicola Careem, Becky Dale, Lyse Doucet, Abdullah Elham, Farid Kundil, Vladimir Hernandez, Secunder Kermani, BBC Monitoring teams in Kabul and Delhi, BBC Newsgathering, Claire Press, Ehsan Rashid, Shoaib Sharif, John Walton, Fazel Yalghoz, Mahfouz Zubaide​
Reliable statistics are often difficult to produce in conflict zones so in this investigative piece, the BBC team set out to gather their own on the violent conflict taking place in Afghanistan. To make this possible, the team gathered and verified every war-related attack across Afghanistan, with visits to sites, discussions with officials and community leaders as well as monitoring of local reports to confirm precise details. The panel found this a deserving winner for the investigative category in its collection of statistics that were very challenging to obtain. They were also impressed by the use of multiple sources to ensure fair conclusions and with the detailed methodology provided.  

Highly Commended: Electoral fraud in the Democratic Republic of the Congo: Congo voting data reveal huge fraud in poll to replace KabilaMartin Fayulu has reason to thank Congo voting machines he once feared, Tom Wilson, David Blood, David Pilling, Andrew Garthwaite – Financial Times  
This story used data and statistical methods to uncover one of the biggest electoral frauds in recent history. With the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s constitutional court due to rule on the validity of the result ten days later, the FT team worked against the clock to analyse and authenticate the voting machine level data they had received. They were able to provide the evidence required to show there had been a conspiracy between the outgoing autocrat Joseph Kabila and incoming president Felix Tshisekedi to block the rightful winner, Martin Fayulu, from power. The judging panel found this to be a powerful example of using statistics to challenge a decision and were impressed by the checks made and explanation given for the legitimacy of the leaked data used.  

Regional journalism 

Winner: ‘Lanscare’, Gill Dummigan – BBC North West Tonight 
This piece investigated the rising number of mental health patients left stranded in Lancashire’s A&Es. While ‘trolley waits’ (where patients are in A&E for more than 12 hours) are usually associated with the elderly, Gill found, through her own research, that those with mental illnesses were disproportionally affected. Using a freedom of information (FOI) request, Gill obtained Lancashire hospitals’ breakdown of waiting times for the last three years and found there had been a significant increase in wait times for those with a mental illness - with one patient stranded in A&E for five and a half days. The judging panel were extremely impressed with the use of an FOI to gather statistics that are not in the public domain and the way that Gill put these in context, with interviews from those affected.  

Highly commended:   Here's why special needs children are battling to get into mainstream schools, Aimee Stanton – Sheffield Star (JPIMedia)  
While laws have been introduced to stipulate that children with special educational needs (SEN) should go to mainstream schools where possible to ensure integration, this investigation found there had been a decline in SEN pupils in mainstream schools in England. The judging panel were impressed with Aimee’s extensive use of data from the Department of Education, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government and how it was put into context.  





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