Data Journalism Guardian Style

A decade or so ago Guido spent years reading company annual reports. They are an art form nowadays, beautifully presented multimedia spectaculars. Like much great art they take reality and twist it. Guido likes to read the Guardian Media Group’s annual report to see how their hedge fund investments are doing, how many hundreds of millions of pounds they are hiding from the taxman in the Caymans and how much the editor of the people’s broadsheet, Alan Rusbridger, is getting paid. Since you ask, £605,000 all in with benefits, up 7% from last year, though if you read the Guardian’s own report you might not understand that because apparently “in nominal terms his salary in 2010/11 was unchanged” despite somehow managing to take home £44,000 more in salary this year than last year. Tough gig being the Guardian journalist who writes up the boss’s pay.

Take a look at this chart of GMG plc’s revenues as depicted in the annual report. At first glance they look solid, with a good base. As your eyes move naturally from left to right things look like they are getting bigger and better. Look again and you see that actually revenue has fallen in five years from £593 million to £255 million. Some of that narrowing of the revenue base is due to selling off a large part of the family silver, Auto Trader, in 2008. An accidental visual deception?

Guido has re-jigged the chart to make things clearer, the traditional bar-chart shows revenue has dropped by a further third since 2008. Anyone might think that the annual report was trying to obscure the obvious, that The Guardian is a loss making vanity publishing concern run by people who abhor capitalism and profit-making. Presumably those that will keep their jobs are happy about not making profits…




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