Conrad Quilty-Harper, 26, is a wunderkind of the British data journalism scene, lauded by The Guardian on its “30 under 30” digital media list for “playing a key role in progressing British data journalism.” He works his wonders at Ampp3d, the new data journalism site run by Trinity Mirror, publisher of Britain’s third most-read newspaper, The Daily Mirror.
Designed and built in only eight weeks, Ampp3d was launched in December 2013 as part of The Daily Mirror’s campaign to attract digital readers who wouldn’t normally come to the paper. While broadsheets like The Daily Telegraph tend to be serious in tone, tabloids like the Mirror are more lighthearted equivalents of the New York Daily News. Ampp3d’s idiosyncratic name stems from new formats editor Martin Belam’s efforts to find one that was available across multiple domains and social media networks. Quilty-Harper is one of three full-time staff, writing about everything from British politics and London real estate to soccer player Wayne Rooney’s salary.
Like traffic behemoth UsvsThe3m, another Trinity Mirror site that specializes in fun internet odds and ends, Ampp3d reels in clicks by making readers laugh. But it also publishes stories grounded in in-depth data analysis and tries to make them think.
Data journalism is increasingly popular in the UK, and Ampp3d and Quilty-Harper are right at the forefront of it. CJR spoke to Quilty-Harper about Ampp3d’s balance between serious and irreverent content, and about making data journalism fun.
While I can think of several data projects run by broadsheets, Ampp3d is the only one I can think of run by a tabloid. Do you think that helps give it a distinctive voice?
Definitely. It’s been an interesting experiment. Most of the people who work on Ampp3d have come from a broadsheet background. So we’re not tabloid journalists by our experience. It’s been a sort of learning curve for us actually, learning the sensational style that you get in tabloids. But it’s been really fun and a really interesting process, … taking data and trying to make it relevant to someone who had never heard of data journalism before.
The first thing I saw on Ampp3d that really got my attention was the explanation of recent British elections, using Lego bricks.
That’s one of the fun parts of the job really and that’s definitely a tabloid style. That news should be fun and entertaining. That’s been one of the best things about Ampp3d and what’s unique about us, I think, is that we’re not too serious about things, unless we think they need to be serious and told in a serious way.
The team set-up is really conducive to having fun and trying things out … We’re in an office together and we chat a lot about the news, but also with a very clear understanding that it needs to be fun and light and tabloidy.
Is there a particular audience that you’re trying to reach?
It’s a similar audience to the Mirror I think. The Mirror has been doing an advertising campaign recently called “Made you think” and trying to set the branding towards becoming an intelligent tabloid. Ampp3d was kind of the heart of that idea, that you can have a tabloid that’s intelligent, but also keep all the good things about a tabloid, that it’s fun and engaging.
How do you manage to make everything look so visual?
From the very get-go we were always about infographics and visuals, and I think it really comes down to this idea that we’re trying to create a very shareable website. I think people share images and they share pictures. They talk about fact, but it’s much easier to share a single picture that captures an emotion about a story, than it is to share an 800-word thinkpiece. I think it also comes back to the mobile phone thing. Because if you have a Wayne Rooney calculator that’s counting up in real time and it’s on your mobile phone, you can show it to your friends and they can see it from across the room, and that’s what we’re trying to capture.
How do you decide which stories to highlight?
We’re a popular product, so we’re trying to capture and work on maybe the five biggest stories of the day and that’s usually quite easy to find out: Google News, Google Trends, Facebook trends, what’s trending on Twitter.
When we’re deciding what to do, it’s about what we find fun and what other people aren’t doing … It’s also kind of a similar model to websites like Quartz. Quartz has a model where reporters choose their specialisms and they can change them over time, and they’re not necessarily the big, traditional specialisms like sport or finance. It might be Bitcoin or the Ukraine crisis. It’s more unique and [more like] how people actually follow stories. People follow the Ukraine crisis; they don’t follow international political relations as a topic. They follow what’s relevant to them at the time.
What’s the future of Ampp3d?
We’ve hit on a formula I think that can work … It’s just trying to hone that over time and get a bit more discipline now that we’re past the trial period.
We all really actually enjoy doing the kind of content that we’re working on. I think that’s one of the unique things about Ampp3d that’s different from a lot of other places we might have worked for—that fun can actually be part of a serious news operation.