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How the BBC Visual and Data Journalism team works with graphics in R

Medium: “Over the past year, data journalists on the BBC Visual and Data Journalism team have fundamentally changed how they produce graphics for publication on the BBC News website. In this post, we explain how and why we have used R’s ggplot2 package to create production-ready charts, document our process and code and share what we learned along the way. Data journalists on the BBC News’ Visual and Data Journalism team have been using R for complex and reproducible data analysis and to build prototypes for some time. For example, we used R to extract, wrangle, clean and explore data from hundreds of spreadsheets on whether NHS targets are being hit, for the award-winning NHS tracker project. R was our go-to when in 2017 we analysed more than eight million residential property transactions in England and Wales for a project looking at how house prices have changed in real terms, a project that received an award from the Royal Statistical Society last year. But when it comes to making graphics, it’s been another story.

We used R and in particular R’s data visualisation package ggplot2 for data exploration, to visualise patterns and help us understand the data and find stories. But we stopped short of building charts in the BBC News graphics style ready for publication on the site. To create graphics to accompany stories on the BBC News website, we had two main options: if there was enough time, we could commission graphics from our design team. If we needed a quick turnaround, opt for our in-house chart tool instead. In the first months of 2018 some curious members of the data team started experimenting, diving deep into the internals of the ggplot2 package in a bid to figure out how close we could get to replicating the BBC’s in house style…”

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