Each month, IJNet features an international journalist who exemplifies the profession and has used the site to further his or her career. If you would like to be featured, email a short bio and a paragraph about how you have used IJNet here.
This month we feature the team behind The 545, a new website focusing on the upcoming Indian national elections. They are six tech-savvy Indian students studying at New York's Columbia Journalism School: Aparna Alluri, Indrani Basu, Iva Dixit, Devjyot Ghoshal, Rishi Iyengar and Anand Katakam.
They describe their site (named for the number of seats available in India’s Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament) as a “combination of BuzzFeed and Quartz — 300 to 400 word pieces with charts, graphics, visuals — to tell interesting stories tailored for online consumption.” The 545 has been a hit since its launch in early February. Ghoshal, a former correspondent at Indian financial daily the Business Standard, told IJNet: “We almost crashed our site within the first few days because of traffic, and were widely covered in India and by New York-based media.”
In its first three days, it brought in 42,000 page views, nearly 1,500 Facebook likes and more than 700 Twitter followers.
“That's partly because the Indian audience has seen nothing like it before,” he says.
How has IJNet helped you?
Our focus is on data and visualizing content, both areas where we've learned greatly by following IJNet. One application that we extensively use in our visualizations is Datawrapper, which was featured on IJNet. We've also used CartoDB, which was featured on IJNet last year. Being able to look at the platforms that journalists are using has been immensely useful.
But apart from these platforms, a lot of the conversations around data journalism that IJNet curates have been useful in giving us an insight into what journalists and newsrooms globally are thinking and doing. And that's influenced our ideation process.
What are some examples of data journalism that inspired your team?
A lot of our data journalism has been inspired by Quartz because it really allows readers to absorb key numbers in an easy and simple way. The way Quartz does it, data complements the stories, it doesn't overwhelm it -- or the readers. So, we wanted to build The 545 in that vein, especially since there really isn't any online data journalism being undertaken by the mainstream media in India.
Also, a bunch of us are in a data visualization class at Columbia with Susan McGregor (previously a Senior Programmer on the Wall Street Journal News Graphics team) and Chris Canipe (an interactive graphics reporter at WSJ). Both of them have been a big influence, and we continue to learn from them.
What is The 545 most proud of so far and why?
We are proud of our website, which we designed and built ourselves to work across platforms. It's responsive, so it works across desktops, laptops, mobile and tablets. We mulled over a lot of design options. And when we showed the website to Mario Garcia (a preeminent news design expert and current Columbia professor), he said he liked it. That was big for us.
Also, there are a couple of stories we think are our better ones: This one on Indian women in Parliament over the years; an interactive map to find your local tainted politician; and an election rally tracker, which we update every week.
What advice would you give aspiring journalists [or journalism teams] who dream of doing something similar?
First thing: Don't procrastinate (as journalists love to), and [instead] just start discussing the idea, finding a team and building the platform. Second, focus. When we were thinking of building The 545, we were lucky to have former Guardian digital director Emily Bell as a professor. Her advice was to find an area and focus. And that's exactly what we did.
And lastly, collaborate. The six members of The 545 come from different professional and educational backgrounds, and all that comes into play when we ideate and work on our stories. Since each of us has a different area of strength, our best work happens when we all collaborate.
Image courtesy of The 545.