But the FT also saw it as an opportunity to produce an interactive project based on the topic, and work in collaboration with its parent company, Nikkei.
The final interactive, 'Can a robot do your job?', took two weeks to produce and it was published in English on ft.com on 7 April, while the Japanese version appeared on Nikkei's website on 22 April. Eight people worked on the piece in total, and it was the first time the two newsrooms collaborated on a project of this nature.
"It turned out to be a much more interesting challenge than we initially thought," said Robin Kwong, special projects editor at the FT, who worked on the story as part of his Nikkei-FT fellowship in San Francisco.
"You'd think you just make it, and then you have a version in both languages and that's it, but there's more to it than that," he told Journalism.co.uk.
Kwong had the idea of producing the interactive as an evergreen story, published several months after the data became available, because he wanted readers to get a personalised experience.
Instead of people just reading about the percentage of work tasks that could be automated globally, they could see what it meant for them in their individual roles.
Kwong worked alongside FT's Joanna Kao, data visualisation journalist, Claire Manibog, visual journalist, and Toyoki Nakanishi, a Nikkei staff writer who was the liaison between the two organisations' digital teams.
Here are some takeaways about collaboration and how they made the project work:
Involve both parties early on in the process
The FT and Nikkei started working together early on in the process. The initial development work on the interactive's calculator, which allows people to input their job title and choose the tasks they perform to see how many of them could become automated, was primarily done by the FT.
However, the Nikkei team was kept up to speed throughout, as opposed to "us dumping over a bunch of code and going 'right, you take this now and figure out how to do it in Japanese'".
One of the things the FT was able to bring to the table was "the way we do our digital projects", Kwong explained. The production process, which took two weeks, had an intensive building period during the first week, while the final seven days were used to identify and fix bugs and other issues.
"We brought this sort of agile way of working, using Trello boards, user-testing throughout..we felt this way in which the FT develops its interactive digital stories was a real strength."
Collaborating from the get-go also allowed the teams to identify and solve the potential complications. For example, the McKinsey data contained about 20,000 different work activities listed across different roles, all of which had to be translated into Japanese.
"We were able to identify early that [the translation] was going to take a long time, so Nikkei was able to make a quick decision to hire an external translator while [the FT] was still developing the calculator, so we did things in parallel."
Working together also allowed Nikkei to adapt the project for their different outputs and audiences, which led to them producing not just a Japanese version of the calculator, but also other elements, such as an infographic and other written pieces.
Allow time for user-testing
"We do reviews and retrospectives after all our interactive projects and for the last two years, what came out in the retrospective almost every time was that we should be allowing more time for user-testing.
"This is one time when we actually did it – it takes less time than you think, and it also saves you time overall."
The team conducted multiple rounds of user-testing during the two weeks they worked on the story. The first one was a paper prototype, listing the different job titles available in the McKinsey research, which they tested with people in a coffee shop.
The second round took place after they had already started building the calculator, when users tried it out on their mobile devices and the developers were able to make changes accordingly.
"You have to be very clear about what you're testing for. We knew what we wanted readers to do once their arrived on the page, so the first thing we tested for was how they would find their profession in the list.
"Instead of user-testing your interactive, user-test this specific thing you want the person to do."
Think about impact and how you will measure it
The English version of 'Can a robot do your job?', published on ft.com, has gathered 46,000 page views so far, while Nikkei's version was viewed by 80,000 people in the first two days after publication, and shared by 7,000 people on Facebook.
It became Nikkei's third most read piece of content published in 2017, which Kwong said could be due to the fact that interactives, which are now "fairly standard for Western media organisations", are "still pretty rare" in Japan. "It really shows the value of being able to bring your stories to different audiences."
The FT originally put the story behind its paywall, making it free to read one month after it was published, so the team had to think about how they were going to measure success other than taking page views into account.
Since the calculator had two stages – first, people choosing their occupation and second, the tasks they performed – the aim was to get people to reach the second stage, or at least keep them interested enough to pick their profession.
Three quarters of the 46,000 people who arrived to the story on ft.com chose at least one job from the drop down menu, while half of the readers went on to choose at least one activity in the second stage.
Kwong worked on a second collaborative project during his fellowship, a video which will be published in the near future, and the fellowship will run again next year so there will be other potential opportunities for the two organisations to collaborate.
"It's really valuable to be able to do a real, almost live test run, which shows the potential hurdles, the elements that translate and those that don't.
"It's mainly a discovery process, to see how things differ across the two organisations and how we could make it work for joint projects," Kwong said.
Free daily newsletter
- Orson Francescone, managing director of FT Live, on the post-pandemic future of media events
- What is the future of work in our newsrooms?
- How to drive change in the newsroom and overcome obstacles to innovation
- Sifted launches a membership model inspired by the startups it reports on
- Financial Times launches a new hub for climate news because its audience asked for it