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.

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2 thoughts on “Can Data Become A Story? A Blogging Review.

  1. This is a great blog, Will! That makes sense that your nonprofit doesn’t have as much of the emotional appeal we normally associate with nonprofits, but you are also right in saying that doesn’t mean they can’t still have an effective blog. I love how you looked into that aspect of nonprofit blogging, and into how a nonprofit like yours without the emotional appeal can make blogging work. The suggestions you gave for nonprofits like Michigan Future Inc. are all things that would help someone like myself, who wouldn’t normally read an economic blog, stay interested. Pictures are always something that draws people in. Even if they skip over the writing at first, the phrase “a picture says a thousand words” can really apply by catching the viewers interest and drawing them into the text. A navigation bar is also a good suggestion, especially if you are looking at the blog to be educated on a specific issue. I like how you gave an example of each type of blog so I could click on the links and compare and contrast the differences. I really enjoyed looking into what your nonprofit does, it grasped my interest much more than I had expected it to and I look forward to continuing to read about it!

  2. I agree with Leah that this is a pretty compelling blog entry. I like the fact that you address a real issue for some types of nonprofits: how to tell a story with data. But beyond that, I think that the real strength of this blog post is the way you address it, and you’re effective because you have a good sense of audience, which is shown from how you get us to enter into the blog, to how you pose the question, and even to your analysis of and linking to other blogs. This was interesting to read and made me think!

    One thing that would work well, even on a site devoted to data, is infographics. Check out the site Visually for some good examples.

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