Data, storytelling, and lists: The making of a 21st-century wire service

Data, storytelling, and lists: The making of a 21st-century wire service
Selection of Stacker Headlines, September 2021

Nicole Caldwell is Stacker's Managing Editor

Wire services and other publishing groups that offer syndicated reporting have always played major roles in the journalism industry. These services provide news organizations with timely and entertaining pieces that can fill gaps in coverage while providing comprehensive reporting that audiences can trust.

But let’s be honest—the quality of easily digestible, list-based journalism? Not quite as consistent. While lists themselves are highly resonant among audiences, list-driven content can range widely and often takes the form of surface-level clickbait, opinions posturing as definitive rankings, or worse.

When we started Stacker, we sought to take the intuitive, engaging list-based format and define an approach that would provide trusted, journalistically sound storytelling. That’s why we structured the Stacker newsroom differently. Here, we’ve built out a roster of data storytellers and experienced journalists with varied beats, all of whom work in tandem to report, produce, and fact-check the stories we publish on a daily basis. We want it to be an easy decision for publishers around the country to partner with Stacker and share our stories, and that starts with trust in our editorial process. We’ve spent four years building out a newsroom that specializes in producing authoritative, data-driven stories in a list based format - and wanted to give a peek inside our process.

Every Stacker story starts with the data. Our research team, made up of half a dozen data storytellers, is constantly scouring hundreds of public and private databases, academic studies, social media, and more to make sure that we’re aggregating the most authoritative data possible across a variety of topics including local and national news, real estate, business, health, entertainment, sports, travel, and more.

When we began building out our newsroom, we knew that the basic functions of computer-assisted reporting could be taught. But data sans context produces emotionless content, which is why we work with people who can spot good stories amidst that data. Each week, our research and editorial teams get together for in-house brainstorms that facilitate discussion around today’s most relevant data sets and how we can contextualize them for our readers.

Working across 500+ data sources, our research team analyzes and structures data to pull out objective, intuitive frameworks for each story, making it easier than ever for the editorial half of our newsroom to take that reporting and run with it. We’re also able to localize stories, streamlining the process for news organizations to access stories that are highly relevant to their audiences.

Once we’ve identified and compiled a data set, the editorial side of our newsroom kicks into gear. While all data analysis is done in house, we often work with freelance journalists to help bring the story to life. By partnering with an ever-growing roster of journalists who are experts in their respective fields, we’re able to ensure every story is written by an authority on the subject matter, pulling in relevant context, reporting, and background for the data we’re analyzing and the stories we’re telling.

Over the last four years, we’ve increased our volume of reporting to produce around 100 features each month—including a regularly updated library of nearly 4,000 evergreen features for a national audience—all available to our roster of 1,000+ partner news organizations. As our data platform and team of reporters have grown, we’ve been able to leverage structured data to localize much of our content and now produce over 50 local series each month — from the best restaurants in a given metro to counties in a particular state with the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates—each available for 368 metro areas across all 50 states.

While we’re continually iterating on the experience that we provide to our partner news organizations, we have three editorial values we aim to execute on every day: authority, range, and intuitiveness.

By valuing data over opinion, leaning into a diverse range of datasets, investing in our network of experienced contributors, and upholding rigorous fact-checking and journalistic standards, news organizations know they can trust Stacker journalism to engage and inform their readers, no matter the coverage gaps they may face. Our goal has been to make partnering with Stacker intuitive: dozens of stories and features per day, produced by experienced journalists, all available to our partners.

We look forward to introducing you to the faces behind our newsroom in the coming weeks and months and pulling back the curtain even further on what we do and how we do it. If you want to learn more now, or are ready to publish Stacker content, sign up for our daily story alerts here, or drop us a line at