News organizations today have seemingly endless digital possibilities to meet the demands and needs of increasingly data-savvy audiences. A news interactive is one storytelling method designed to make complicated data accessible to media consumers. However, news interactives require significant organizational resources, and the impact of these projects on audiences remains underexplored.

So we decided to look more deeply into the impact of the news interactives we create and how we could calculate the costs and benefits of producing interactives. (Check out the full white paper with findings here.)

Staff members with The Center for Investigative Reporting identified three main functions of news interactives: to dive deeper and explore data, in general; to enable users to find information relevant to their own lives or communities; and to tell a story. However, our challenge was how to evaluate whether an interactive application does those things and to answer the following questions: Do people dive deep and explore our data apps? And does this exploration carry over to deeper exploration of other elements of our stories? Or does the audience consume an application as a standalone story?

Our research found that CIR’s news interactives are most successful – meaning there are many unique visitors who click around in the interactive – when they are part of a full content package, have a high degree of interactivity, have a pleasing aesthetic and design, and load quickly.

While these findings are specific to CIR, the implications are valuable for the media industry as a whole. In addition, these findings would be enriched if other newsrooms applied the same methodology to analyze their news interactives and shared their findings.

If you are interested in collaborating with us on an app research project, please contact

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Lindsay Green-Barber

Green-Barber is the director of strategic research at The Center for Investigative reporting. She works to identify, assess and rigorously test areas of programmatic work where CIR can have catalytic impact through its content distribution and engagement. She leads research and analysis and serves as an expert both internally and for external partnerships.
Previously, Green-Barber was an American Council for Learned Societies public fellow and served as media impact analyst at CIR. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from the City University of New York Graduate Center. Her doctoral research, conducted from 2011 through 2013 in Ecuador, focused on indigenous organizations’ use of new information and communications technologies for social mobilization. She also taught political science courses at Hunter College.