Or, things I've learned about telling stories at ProPublica.


The News Apps Team




Actual change

Why should I care?

A Study of Empathy

Deborah A. Small, George Loewenstein, Paul Slovic , 2005

Story 1

Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than 3 million children. In Zambia, severe rainfall deficits have resulted in a 42% drop in maize production from 2000. As a result, an estimated 3 million Zambians face hunger. Four million Angolans - one third of the population - have been forced to flee their homes. More than 11 million people in Ethiopia need immediate food assistance.

Story 2

Rokia, a 7-year-old girl from Mali, Africa, is desperately poor and faces a threat of severe hunger or even starvation. Her life will be changed for the better as a result of your financial gift. With your support, and the support of other caring sponsors, Save the Children will work with Rokia's family and other members of the community to help feed her, provide her with education, as well as basic medical care and hygiene education.


Identifiable Victim Effect

(Or, people care about people)




Knowledge Of


Knowledge That

So, let's break it down.

Problem 1

Too many stats

Solution 1

Make it tangible – tell me a story.

“The power of fiction is to create empathy. It lifts you away from your chair and stuffs you gently down inside someone else's point of view. ... A newspaper could tell you that one hundred people, say, in an airplane, or in Israel, or in Iraq, have died today. And you can think to yourself, "How very sad," then turn the page... But a novel could take just one of those hundred lives and show you exactly how it felt to be that person... You could taste that person's breakfast, and love her family, and sort through her worries as your own, and know that a death in that household will be the end of the only life that someone will ever have. As important as yours. As important as mine.”

– Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson, 1996

The story of 21 year old Day Davis

Temp Town »

The story of Joan Boice

Life and Death in Assisted Living »

One person


Global problem


Problem 2

Big bunch of words, TL;DR

Solution 2

Make it visual – let me see it

Give it a face

Dose of Confusion »

Show Contradictions

CIA Drone Strikes »

Create Alternate Realities

Westchester Maps »

Make Comparisons

Tylenol »

Photograph or Video


Chart or Graphic


Problem 3

What about me?

Solution 3

Make it personal – show me me

Show me my best local ER

ER Wait Watcher »

Show me my doctor

Dollars for Docs »

Show me my congressperson

Guns »

Show me my school

The Opportunity Gap »

Near view


Far view



most depressing chart ever.

What next?