Can Data Become A Story? A Blogging Review.

It’s easy to tell the story, when the story is easy to tell. When its funny, dramatic, or exotic.

But what if, by all accounts, your story isn’t that interesting? What if its filled with data and numbers?

You see the sector that my non-profit is in isn’t usually considered that exciting. Economic development and growth, the knowledge-based economy, and state investment in higher education are all “jargony” phrases and terms that tend to push more people away than draw in.

Thats why when looking at “The World’s best Non-Profit Blogs,” I got a little jealous. You see, to sounds completely vindictive here, I think blogs like “With My Own Eyes“actually have an easier story to tell. When your cause naturally lends itself to emotional appeal, or trips abroad to poverty stricken or war torn areas, or the general ease of great human suffering, your blog will naturally attract interest (this might be a bit of an oversimplification).

But again, what if your story isn’t that? If its filled with economic data or a considerably less heated political agenda? How can we make data the story?

Here I wanted to look at two different blogs, both from non-profits in the Michigan economic development sectors, and review their successes and failures from a communicative standpoint.

First, Michigan Future Inc.

Michigan Future Inc is a non-partisan think tank based out of Ann Arbor and led by prominent Michigan economic scholar Lou Glazer. More than anyone else in the past two decades, Glazer has been the person writing and pushing for Michigan to transition to a knowledge-based economy. When it comes to this issue area and expertise, Glazer is the preeminent star.

His blog is filled with some of the best data and research on how Michigan can attract and retain talent, grow businesses, and return to prosperity. However, you wouldn’t exactly know it by looking at it.

Glazer does follow some of the rules talked about by Mansfield (mostly by using current news to create content), but his blog lacks aesthetic appeal or efficient organization. The blog is incredibly text heavy, with almost no pictures to be found and the text is often formatted different ways and not in a consistent manner. Given how long some of the blog entries are, it would also be beneficial to give a teaser paragraph and then link with a “continue reading” button. It might also be beneficial to have a navigation bar that would allow users to filter blog entries by topic or interest. One thing that he does well however, is post often, which despite its lack of aesthetic and web appeal, drives users to the site.

However, all hope is not lost. Just because the non-profit works in economic policy doesn’t mean it’s blog has to visually or organizationally unappealing. Take for instance, the New Economy Initiative, a major non-profit dedicated to economic growth in SE Michigan.

Everything that was suggested for Glazer’s blog is done in NEI’s blog. They tease each blog entry with a link for further reading. There are nice, high quality pictures of the author for each blog entry. They have also, on the right sidebar, archived all their blog entries by topic so that a user seeking specific information can find it more directly.

While NEI’s blog wouldn’t make the list of the world’s best non-profit blogs, nor does it manage to make economic development as exciting as adventures in foreign countries, its visual appeals and efficient organization does make it a blog to model after.