The Summary of the Mueller Report

When Robert Mueller submitted his report a few weeks ago, some interested parties declared it a witch hunt that had wasted time and money. Except, it had done the opposite of that. It had laid bare Russia’s interference in our elections and the contacts between Russian government and quasi-government officials and Trump campaign officials. Said officials then lied about their contacts and, along with other crimes discovered during the course of the investigation, either pleaded guilty or were convicted. And while a few trials are still underway, we also now know 12 other cases have been referred to prosecutors but they remain under wraps.

At the time of submission, the New York Times was able to create this front page graphic.

There's some shady shit going on here.
There’s some shady shit going on here.

It highlighted the key figures in the report’s investigation and identified their current status. Many of those charged, essentially all the Russians, are unlikely to ever stand trial because Russia will not extradite them.

Inside the piece we had two full pages covering the report. The graphics were rather simple, like this, although as these were black and white pages, colouring the photographs was not an option. Instead, the designers simply used headers and titles to separate out the rogues’ gallery.

Not exactly the pages on which you want your name…
Not exactly the pages on which you want your name…

This wasn’t a complicated piece, but it made sense as one of the first pieces. For months we had been told the investigation was “wrapping up soon”, or words to that effect. Then, out of nowhere, it finally did. In one day, and crucially without the actual report yet, work like this reminded us that the report had, in fact, achieved its purpose.

Credit for the piece goes to the New York Times graphics department.

Redaction Action

Last week, the Department of Justice released the Mueller Report. It was—and still is—sort of a big deal. But this week I want to take a look at a few different approaches to covering the report in the media. We will start with a piece from Vox on the redactions in the report. After all, we only know what we know. And we know there is about 7% of the report we do not know. And we do not know what we do not know.

7% is still a fair amount of black when it's concentrated in one section.
7% is still a fair amount of black when it’s concentrated in one section.

The above graphic looks at overall redactions as images of each page show how much was withheld from the public. Then we have a small donut chart to show that 7.25% was redacted. Did it need to be a donut? No. A simple factette could have worked in its place. It could be worse, though, it could be a similarly sized pie chart.

The rest of the article moves on to a more detailed analysis of the redactions, by section, type, &c. And this screenshot is one of the more interesting ones.

Different coloured sharpies
Different coloured sharpies

Fundamentally we have stacked bars here, with each section’s redactions per page broken down by type. And that is, on the one hand, useful. Of course, I would love to see this data separated out. That is, show me just “investigative technique” and filter out the rest. Imagine if instead of this one chart we had four slightly smaller ones limited to each type of redaction. Or, if we kept this big one and made four smaller ones showing the redaction types.

Overall the article does a really nice job of showing us just what we don’t know. Unfortunately, we ultimately just don’t know what we don’t know.

Credit for the piece goes to Alvin Chang and Javier Zarracina.

An Illustrated Guide to the Deaths in Game of Thrones

Did something important happen yesterday in the news? We’ll get to it. But for now, it’s Friday. You’ve made it to the weekend. So sit back and binge. On gin or Game of Thrones, whatever.

Last Sunday the hit HBO show Game of Thrones returned for its final series. I did not have time to post about this piece then, but thankfully, not much has changed.

It details all the on-screen deaths in the show. (Spoiler: a lot.) It includes the series in which they died, the manner of their death, who killed them, and some other notable information. Remarkably, it is not limited to the big characters, e.g. Ned Stark. (If that is a spoiler to you, sorry, not sorry.) The piece captures the deaths of secondary and tertiary characters along with background extras. The research into this piece is impressive.

Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen the show, this spoils only some extras and I guess the locations the show has, well, shown.

Don't go beyond the Wall
Don’t go beyond the Wall

Thankfully, by my not so rigourous counting, last week added only four to the totals on the page (to be updated midway and after the finale).

In terms of data visualisation, it’s pretty straightforward. Each major and minor character has an illustration to accompany them—impressive in its own right. And then extras, e.g. soldiers, are counted as an illustration and circles to represent multiples.

For me, the impressive part is the research. There is something like over 60 hours of footage. And you have to stop whenever there is a battle or a a feast gone awry and count all the deaths, their manners, identify the characters, &c.

Credit for the piece goes to Shelley Tan.

The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral: Part Trois

On Tuesday I talked about a small article published by the New York Times that looked at the cathedral fire. I lamented that there were no immediate graphics explaining what happened. Just give me two days. Tuesday we had the BBC piece and then yesterday the New York Times published a more extensive look.

As the user scrolls through the piece, a 3-dimensional model reveals the key structural elements whilst text explains why that part is being focused upon in the story.

Wood beams do not make for preventative measures.
Wood beams do not make for preventative measures.

I do not know if the dramatic, black background helps. It might create contrast the designers deemed helpful against the light-coloured illustration. But that is probably my only real point to make about the piece. Otherwise, it is a very thorough and helpful guide to the architecture and how that helped the fire spread.

Credit for the piece goes to Larry Buchanan, James Glanz, Even Grothjan, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Allison McCann, Karthik Patanjali, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Jeremy White, and Graham Roberts.

The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral: Part Deux

Yesterday I mentioned how there were few graphics detailing the fire at Notre Dame de Paris. Just give media organisations a day. The BBC published this piece about the fire. It includes, much like the Times piece from yesterday, an illustrative diagram detailing the key locations of the fire.

But the BBC piece goes a bit further and includes photo sliders like this.

The roof is on fire
The roof is on fire

It shows the extent of the fire burning away at the roof. (Amazingly, the stone vaulted ceiling below the roof contained most of the fire as the ground floor is nearly intact.)

Another slider looks at the appearance of the cathedral while photographs are annotated to provide immediate context of what the reader is seeing.

Overall, it is a very strong piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral

This was not what I was going to write about today, but the news of the fire that ravaged Notre Dame yesterday rightly dominated the news yesterday and this morning. However, while I found multiple articles dealing with photographic evidence of the damage, I did not see many that detailed the fire from an illustrative or diagrammatic standpoint.

Thankfully, the New York Times did just that. They posted an article that deals specifically with the fire. It includes this set of small multiples that shows the progression along the roof and spire.

Unfortunately wood burns quickly
Unfortunately wood burns quickly

The article also includes a nice diagram explaining how the fire was focused on the cathedral’s attic. That explains some of the imagery from this morning that shows combustible materials like the pews and pulpit on the stone floor fully intact. And that provides hope the overall building can be saved, as French officials are indicating today.

Credit for the piece goes to Larry Buchanan, Weiyi Cai, James Glanz, Evan Grothjan, Allison Mccann, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Karthik Patanjali, Jugal K. Patel, Scott Reinhard, Bedel Saget, Anjali Singhvi, and Jeremy White.

Israeli Electoral History

One of the important stories of last week that was not black hole related was that of the re-election of the Likud Party in Israel, a party headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. This will be his fourth consecutive time as prime minister plus a fifth back in the late 1990s. Of course, he is facing an expected arrest and charges on corruption, so how long he might remain in office is yet to be determined.

However, the Economist put together this great piece using a Sankey diagram showing the ebbs and flows of the various political parties in Israel since its founding.

It's definitely not a two-party system…
It’s definitely not a two-party system…

Obviously, this is only a partial screenshot, but it does a great job showing those changes. Most impressive is the designers’ ability to show the continuity of the evolving parties and the name changes and the splits and recombinations.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist Data Team.

Blackholes and Revelations

On Sunday night I went to see the English rock band Muse perform here in Philadelphia. The concert was to support their latest album, but of course they played Starlight, a song which gave us its respective album’s title: Blackholes and Revelations.

Then on Wednesday, scientists announced that for the very first time, we have actually been able to take a photograph of a blackhole. This one is a supermassive black hole at the heart of the M87 galaxy, some 500 million trillion kilometres distant.

Hopes and expectations?
Hopes and expectations?

The bright light, or ring of fire, is the heated gas before falling beneath the event horizon, which here is the black disk. Beyond that point, the gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape. And of course without light escaping to be seen, a black hole cannot be directly imaged. Instead, we have to look for its accretion disc.

It’s just cool.

Credit for the piece goes to the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration.

Carbon Taxes

Last week the New York Times published an article about carbon taxes, looking at their adoption around the world and their effectiveness. It is a fascinating article about how different countries have chosen to implement the broad policy idea and the various forms it can take. And, most importantly, how some of those policies can end up blunting the intended effect of carbon emission reduction.

This, however, is about the print piece, because as I was flipping through the morning paper, I found the Business section had a world map above the fold. And we all know how I feel about big, splashy print graphics.

We could use some more green on this map
We could use some more green on this map

Here we have a pretty straight-forward piece. It uses a map to indicate which countries have adopted or are scheduled to adopt a carbon tax programme. The always interesting bit is how the federal system in the United States is represented. Whilst a carbon cap-and-trade deal failed in the US Senate in 2009, individual states have taken up the banner and begun to implement their own plans. Hence, the map shows the states in yellow.

There is nothing too crazy going on in the piece, but it is just a reminder that sometimes, as a designer, I love big splashy graphics to anchor an article.

Credit for the piece goes to Brad Plumer.

How Does the UK View Their Political Parties?

The United Kingdom crashes out of the European Union on Friday. That means there is no deal to safeguard continuity of trading arrangements, healthcare, air traffic control, security and intelligence deals, &c. Oh, and it will likely wreck the economy. No big deal, Theresa. But what do UK voters think about their leading political parties in this climate? Thankfully Politico is starting to collect some survey data from areas of marginal constituencies, what Americans might call battleground districts, ahead of the eventual next election.

And it turns out the Tories aren’t doing well. Though it’s not like Labour is performing any better, because polling indicates the public sees Corbyn as an even worse leader than Theresa May. But this post is more to talk about the visualisation of the results.

Of course I naturally wonder the perception of the smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats or Change UK (the Independent Group)
Of course I naturally wonder the perception of the smaller parties like the Liberal Democrats or Change UK (the Independent Group)

The graphics above are a screenshot where blue represents the Conservatives (Tories) and red Labour. The key thing about these results is that the questions were framed around a 0–10 scale. But look at the axes. Everything looks nice and evenly spread, until you realise the maximum on the y-axis is only six. The minimum is two. It gives the wrong impression that things are spread out neatly around the midpoint, which here appears to be four. But what happens if you plot it on a full axis? Well, the awfulness of the parties becomes more readily apparent.

Neither party looks very good here…
Neither party looks very good here…

Labour might be scoring around a five on Health, but its score is pretty miserable in these other two categories. And don’t worry, the article has more.  But this quick reimagination goes to show you how important placing an axis’ minimum and maximum values can be.

Credit for the piece goes to the Politico graphics department.