Coverage of the Orlando Shootings

Last Monday I stated that I would attempt a longer piece on the graphics explaining the shootings in Orlando. Since I do not have access to the print versions, I am examining only the digital versions here. Go grab a cup of tea, because this is certainly one of my longer pieces.

One of the most common ways sites covered the story was through maps of the club, Pulse. It makes a lot of sense—if we want to understand what happened inside the building we need to be able to place ourselves inside the building. So how to do that?

The first thought would be photography. But, the site is a crime scene likely riddled with bullets and stained with blood. Probably not the best thing for publications to use. So we are left with illustrations of the interior. But what level of detail do readers need to understand the story?

At the one end of the spectrum we have the stripped-down and simplified graphic from the BBC.

The BBC's layout
The BBC’s layout

In many respects this could offer the clearest explanation. Unlike the next versions, we have no graphical elements with which to confuse and clutter the drawing. Walls are omitted for a far more architectural layout. Doors are clearly marked, but that is it. We have no indication of where other key places are located. Where are the restrooms into which the attacker fled with hostages? Where are the dance floors? Where is the patio through which people escaped? We get some indication through the timeline annotations, but a lot of the detail needed to provide context is missing.

The New York Times takes a more detailed approach.

The New York Times layout
The New York Times layout

First you can see that the graphics, while smaller, are interspersed within a text-driven timeline of events. Key areas at that point in the timeline are highlighted on the graphic. For the graphic itself, the Times opts for a high-angle view with walls extending from the floor plan and the three key areas are annotated within the graphic. Colour is kept to a minimum with only whites and greys used in addition to the highlight. However, the high grey walls overlap with each other and the unidentified white boxes. What are the white boxes? Are they important? Do the walls need to be grey? Do they need to be so high that they interfere with the graphic?

We can see some different answers to those questions from the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal's layout
The Wall Street Journal’s layout

Here the graphic is lighter in overall tone, with white and very faint greys replacing the darker tones in the New York Times’ piece. They Journal opts for the same graphics within timeline treatment. They also highlight the areas of the club relevant to the story at that moment in time. But here we first find a larger graphic. The Times could have had space limitations on their online site or they could have had to reuse graphics from their print edition for their online edition. While the Times could have very real reasons for the smaller images, the Journal’s larger graphic gives the content the space it needs to be read and understood comfortably. Also note how the use of grey vs. white for emphasis is reversed. Whereas the Times used white for unmarked boxes and grey for walls and floors, the Journal uses white for the floors and the walls. Grey is used to callout important parts of the club that are then crucially labelled, e.g. where the bars are located. Another really nice touch missing from my screenshot is how the Journal only labels the elements in the first graphic in the timeline. The second graphic only calls out the newly important elements.

The Washington Post takes a similar approach to that of the Journal.

The Washington Post's layout
The Washington Post’s layout

We see above the timeline a large graphic identifying the key areas of the club. The use of the small multiples in the timeline then allows the graphics to be smaller and thus accompanied by more text. But in the graphics, the Post diverges from the Journal’s direction in the graphic’s design. We find the layout depicted at a lower angle. And instead of a restrained palette, we find warm beiges and ochres depicting the floors and key elements like the bars. The shadows here begin call more attention to themselves than in the previous designs. We also find high levels of detail with the inclusion of bar stools and seat cushions. On the large graphic, the colour and detail, while distracting, still work because of the space. But in the small multiples for the timeline, a simplified version without stools and seats and a toned-down palette could make the graphic easier to understand.

And then somewhere between the approaches of the Journal and the Post we have the Los Angeles Times.

The Los Angeles Times' layout
The Los Angeles Times’ layout

We return to a restrained palette with colour used sparingly to emphasise key parts of the narrative. Detail is limited to the key elements, without any illustrative adornments like furniture. Typographic distinctions, bold vs. italic, delineate the important areas of the club from the remainder of the context. Elements like service alleys, fences, and the patio gate are clearly marked and provide that context of the possible escape routes for patrons attempting to flee the attacker. The graphic then repeats through the timeline, but the subsequent graphics reflect a missed opportunity. Each remains as labelled as this first, and the labels begin to distract from understanding the narrative.

Then we have the Orlando Sentinel’s timeline graphics.

The Orlando Sentinel's layout
The Orlando Sentinel’s layout

Note any similarities in this graphic to the preceding one? The Tribune Publishing Company, to be rebranded as tronc, owns both the Los Angeles Times and the Orlando Sentinel. So my guess would be the graphics departments collaborated or one of them created a shared asset to be used across the Tribune Publishing Company’s—sorry, tronc’s—media platforms. The Sentinel’s version lacks the finer design details of the LA Times’s, for example note how the typographic treatment here lacks the clearer hierarchy present in the LA Times’ version. I doubt the small type size increase would be noticed by the audience, though I could be wrong. But in terms of providing a timeline of events, the Sentinel’s version, which incorporates the above graphic as well as other media, is the most detailed and complete.

Then similar to some extents to the preceding graphics, we have a piece from the Orange County Register.

The Orange County Register's layout
The Orange County Register’s layout

As you can likely tell from the screenshot, this is a graphic where the entire piece is designed as a large graphic file instead of components on the page. It could be because the piece was designed primarily for print and not digital consumption. The layout of the club draws heavily on the BBC’s architectural drawing concept, but here is executed far more awkwardly. Instead of including hallways in the schematic, they are indicated by coloured rectangles. And we also know from the other graphics that almost the entirety of the wall at the graphic’s top supported the club’s main bathrooms. The graphic itself is sourced from The Villages Daily Sun, but the OC Register would have been better served by sourcing a more accurate and more clearly designed graphic for the layout. I should also point out the photograph at the top of the graphic appears to have come directly from the New York Times.

Lastly we have the National Post, which is at the other end of the spectrum.

The National Post's layout
The National Post’s layout

Per the style of the National Post, this graphic is more illustrative in its quality than the others. Like the Orange County Register, the National Post designed an entire graphic instead of smaller components on a webpage. The timeline occupies the left column and numbers correspond to locations in the club. However, I think the graphic could have been made more clear if the roof illustration were removed and a higher angle taken to make the back of the club easier to see.

Different publications included different amounts and types of supplemental context. The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, for example, included additional graphics on mass shootings. Others, like the New York Times, provided links to pieces that examined the context separate from the timeline of events.

Is there a best design among these? Well, design exists to solve problems, and those problems could vary from publication to publication. How soon did the graphics needed to be published? How many people worked on the design? How much information was available when producing the work? Were print considerations necessary?

For me, the Orlando Sentinel’s work, in toto, most clearly presented the narrative. While I quibble with particular elements of the design, again, I would have removed most of the text labels after their first appearance, it provides a balanced amount of detail and broad overviews in a clear fashion. Colour is used to emphasise elements in that moment. The illustration itself does not distract and allows the reader to focus on the story itself.

Credit for the pieces goes to a lot of people.

BBC: BBC graphics department

New York Times: Gregor Aisch, Larry Buchanan, Joe Burgess, Ford Fessenden, Josh Keller, K.K. Rebecca Lai, Iaryna Mykhyalyshyn, Haeyoun Park, Adam Pearce, Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, Sergio Peçanha, Anjali Singhvi, Derek Watkins, and Karen Yourish.

Wall Street Journal: Wall Street Journal graphics department

Washington Post: Weiyi Cai, Emily Chow, Chiqui Esteban, Lazaro Gamio, Chris Ingraham, Laris Karklis, Denise Lu, and Tim Meko.

Los Angeles Times: Eben McCue and Angelica Quintero.

Orlando Sentinel: Gal Tziperman Lotan, Charles Minshew, Mike Lafferty and Andrew Gibson.

Ocean County Register: Ocean County Register graphics staff

National Post: Mike Faille and Dean Tweed.

Tables of Insight

Yesterday I opined about how simple tables can convey meaningful information without the aid of unnecessary chart elements. And while we will get back to that post, I did want to take a moment to share an older piece from the New York Times I recalled and that has been updated since Orlando.

The piece uses a table to compare the gun homicide rates for various countries and compares it to other causes of death. Being killed by a gun in the Netherlands is as likely as dying by accidental gas poisoning in the United States. It puts the absurdly high gun homicide rates in the United States in a new light.

A table of death
A table of death

Credit for the piece goes to Kevin Quealy and Margot Sanger-Katz.

Europe’s Far-right Parties

On Sunday, Austria narrowly elected a former Green Party leader as president over the leader of the Freedom Party, a far-right party that surged in part because of the impact of Europe’s migrant and refugee crisis. The New York Times took a look at just how often and by how much far-right parties have succeeded in European countries in recent years.

There's more red than there used to be
There’s more red than there used to be

What I really like about this piece is that while they could have stopped at the above graphic, they opted to not. Some of the graphics above then introduce a section specific to the politics of the particular country, e.g. France and the rise of the National Front and Marine Le Pen.

France in detail
France in detail

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Adam Pearce, and Bryant Rousseau.

The Decline of the Middle Class in America

Last week the New York Times published a great piece on the shrinking middle class and they used a series of small multiples to tell the story. They broke the story up into several sections, based on the trends in the data, e.g. in the screenshot below the designer sorted by areas where the middle class fell but upper class rose.

A wide view of the graphic
A wide view of the graphic

From the responsive design side of things, the piece works well on narrower screens too, because the design choice of small multiple tiles permits the piece to stack and rearrange tiles.

A narrow view of the graphic
A narrow view of the graphic

Credit for the piece goes to Quoctrung Bui.

Trump Knocks out Cruz

Donald Trump will be the Republican Party candidate for President of the United States.

Last summer I never imagined I would type those words in all seriousness, but after Trump won a majority of the votes in Indiana and likely swept all the delegates there, Ted Cruz suspended his campaign.

Two graphics strike my mind to best capture the story. The first is from last summer when FiveThirtyEight added Donald Trump to an existing graphic that loosely mapped out which candidates belonged to which factions of the Republican Party.

Trump was the exception in so many ways…
Trump was the exception in so many ways…

You can clearly see Donald Trump falls as an outlier at the extreme end of the Tea Party circle. This would be the argument that Trump is not a true conservative. But how did that argument play out over the following months?

Well this New York Times results map breaks down results to the county level. And you can see a lot of Trump red.

Results as of 4 May
Results as of 4 May

It started with wins in New Hampshire and, more importantly South Carolina. Candidates try to win Iowa and New Hampshire and whatever other states there are prior to Super Tuesday, because Super Tuesday requires a ground game that is expensive to maintain. And early victories lead to donations. But Trump’s crushing victory in South Carolina led to a series of wins in the deep Republican red South.

Importantly for this last phase of the contest, the Cruz campaign had bet on winning those very same southern states, the Bible Belt. While Cruz won Texas, it was his home state, he lost almost every other state. The map above shows just how wide and diverse Trump’s victories were. From liberal Massachusetts to Alabama and as far west as Arizona. The final one-two blow, however, came in the above map’s deepest reds: a swath from Rhode Island through Connecticut and New York into Pennsylvania then south into Delaware and Maryland. Trump was favoured in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but most had not expected those margins. The second blow, look at the deep red in Indiana. Cruz needed to win Indiana. He lost it big. And now he has stepped aside.

Donald Trump will be the Republican Party candidate for President of the United States.

Mapping a New America

The United States of America consists of 50 states and hundreds of cities. In Sunday’s edition of the New York Times Parag Khanna argued for the switch of priority away from the state-level and to effectively the city-level. We have clusters of cities that dominate and drive the national economy.

The classic case-in-point is Bowash, the megapolis of interconnected cities from Boston to Washington, where there is a plan to extend Baltimore’s MARC public transit train to Wilmington, Delaware. If that were to happen, one could take public transit from the northern suburbs of New York City to Washington through Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore. But today, those decisions must be taken as many as six different states. What if it were handled by a single, regional body?

The Great Northeast
The Great Northeast

The above map looks at what a New America could look like, as grouped into seven different regions and their urban clusters.

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

China’s New Islands

Okay, so the title might be a bit hyperbolic, but the point that China has spent the last few years expanding minor reefs into major military installations still stands. This New York Times piece is a few months old at this point, but through a combination of maps, photography, and diagrams, it illustrates what has been going on in the South China Sea.

Fiery Cross Reef
Fiery Cross Reef

The screenshot above is of the first still in a short time lapse video introducing the article If you do not have the time to read the entirety of the piece, just watch the video. A lot can happen in one year.

Credit for the piece goes to Derek Watkins.

The Franco–Belgian Terror Network

The terror attacks in Paris and Brussels were bad. But even worse? The two attacks exposed a network of IS terrorists living within the Schengen Area. Are there cells or even other networks? One way of uncovering them would be to examine the links between the known terrorists and see if additional nodes appear at the network’s fringes. Given Friday’s piece from the New York times examining the links between the known terrorists, investigators in Europe are likely doing just that.

Looking at the terrorists' network
Looking at the terrorists’ network

Credit for the piece goes to Larry Buchanan, Haeyoun Park, Sarah Almukhtar, Josh Keller, Sergio Peçanha, and Tim Wallace.

A Timeline of Supreme Court Nominations

Beyond Donald Trump, Capitol Hill finds itself consumed by the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia. Democrats insist President Obama’s eventual nomination should be considered by the Senate. Senate Republicans rebut saying that a vote should not happen until the next presidential term. That would be the longest, by nearly a factor of three, the Supreme Court has had a vacant seat.

The New York Times put together a graphic article exploring the timeline of Supreme Court nominations: when the seat became vacant; when the successor was nominated; and whether the nominee was accepted or rejected.

Recent history
Recent history

What I really enjoy is the reversed convention of a timeline. I have made timelines myself on a few occasions and placed recent events at the top, as like here, or to the left in a horizontal format. The idea being recent data and history is more relevant than distant historic information. But placing the relevant data at the bottom or far right makes it more difficult to access.

The timeline bit I like also finds itself in the representation of presidential terms, which the designers chose to display as a countdown from four years from left-to-right. That works very well given the narrative.

And it goes without saying that the annotations add invaluable context.

Overall, a very solid piece.

Credit for the piece goes to Gregor Aisch, Josh Keller, K.K. Rebecca Lai, and Karen Yourish.