The Freedom of the Press

By now you may have heard that this Thursday media outlets across the United, joined by some international outlets as well, have all published editorials about the importance of the freedom of the press and the dangers of the office of the President of the United States declaring unflattering but demonstrably true coverage “fake news”. And even more so, declaring journalists, especially those that are critical of the government, “enemies of the people”.

I have commented upon this in the past, so I will refrain from digressing too much, but the sort of open hostility towards objective reality from the president threatens the ability of a citizenry to engage in meaningful debates on public policy. Let us take the clearly controversial idea of gun control; it stirs passions on both sides of the debate. But, before we can have a debate on how much or how little to regulate guns we need to know the data on how many guns are out there, how many people own them, how many are used in crimes, in lethal crimes, are owned legally or illegally. That data, that verifiably true data exists. And it is upon those numbers we should be debating the best way to reduce the numbers of children massacred in American schools. But, this president and this administration, and certain elements of the citizenry refuse to acknowledge data and truth and instead invent their own. And in a world where 2+2=5, no longer 4, who is to say next that no, 2+2=6.

There are hundreds of editorials out there.

Read one from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago Tribune, the Guardian, and/or the New York Times.

But the one editorial board that started it is that of the Boston Globe. I was dreading how to tie this very important issue into my blog, which you all know tries to focus on data and design. As often as I stand upon my soap box, I try to keep this blog a little less soapy. Thankfully, the Globe incorporated data into their argument.

The end of their post concludes with a small interactive piece that presents survey data. It shows favourability and trustworthiness ratings for several media outlets broken out into their political leanings. The screenshot below is for the New York Times.

Clearly Republicans and Democrats view the Times differently
Clearly Republicans and Democrats view the Times differently

The design is simple and effective. The darker the red, the more people believe an outlet to be trustworthy and how favourably they view it.

But before wrapping up today’s post, I also want to share another bit from that same Boston Globe editorial. As some of you may know, George Orwell’s 1984 is one of my favourite books of all time. I watched part of a rambling speech by the president a few weeks ago and was struck at how similar his line was to a theme in that novel. I am glad the Globe caught it as well.

Credit for this piece goes to the Boston Globe design staff.

Bus Transit in Philadelphia

I have lived in Philadelphia for almost ten months now and that time can be split into two different residences. For the first, I took the El to and from Centre City. For the second, I walk to and from work. I look for living spaces near transit lines. In Chicago I took the El for eight years to get home. But to get to work, I often used the 143 express bus. Personally, I prefer trains and subways to busses—faster, dedicated right-of-way, Amtrak even has WiFi. But, busses are an integral part of a dense city’s transit network. You can cram dozens of people into one vehicle and remove several cars from the road. Here in Philadelphia, however, as the Inquirer reports, bus ridership is down over the last two years at the same time as ride-hailing apps are growing in usage.

For those interested in urban planning and transit, the article is well worth the read. But let’s look at one of the graphics for the article.

Lots of red in Centre City
Lots of red in Centre City

The map uses narrow lines for bus routes and the designer wisely chose to alternate between only two shades of a colour: high and low values of either growth (green) or decline (red). But, and this is where it might be tricky given the map, I would probably dropdown all the greys in the map to be more of an even colour. And I would ditch the heavy black lines representing borders. They draw more attention and grab the eye first, well before the movement to the green and red lines.

And the piece did a good job with the Uber time wait map comparison as well. It uses the same colour pattern and map, small multiple style, and then you can see quite clearly the loss of the entire dark purple data bin. It is a simple, but very effective graphic. My favourite kind.

Still haven't used Uber yet. Unless you count the times I'm being put into one by a friend…
Still haven’t used Uber yet. Unless you count the times I’m being put into one by a friend…

Anyway, from the data side, I would be really curious to see the breakout for trolleys versus busses—yes, folks, Philly still has several trolley lines. If only because, by looking at the map, those routes seem to be in the green and growing category. So as I complain to everyone here in Philly, Philly, build more subways (and trolleys). But, as the article shows, don’t forget about the bus network either.

Credit for the piece goes to the Inquirer graphics department.

Revisiting the End of the Shuttles

This is a post that goes back a little bit in time, but that I stumbled upon and found worth a post. Last summer the United States ended the Space Shuttle programme by retiring all of our orbiters. And of course this prompted many to attempt infographics about the history of bringing liberty and freedom to space.

Amidst the fond farewells, I missed this interactive piece from the Philadelphia Inquirer about the history and the future of Americans in space.

Interactive history
Interactive history

The interactive piece contains three separate sections. The first looks at the individual Americans who made it into space. The second compares the Space Shuttle to the Russian Soyuz craft that we now must use to get into space. The third looks at the future, and what we might use.

But, the Inquirer also had a print edition to worry about, and published a static version of the piece. Is it perhaps a bit cluttered, yes, but the addition of the photographs and the annotations (even though the annotations are available as rollover conditions in the interactive piece) makes the print version more welcoming to explore and read at leisure. Additionally, the difference in scale of the three segments of the piece give a clear importance to the individuals rather than to the technology. This distinction is lost in the interactive piece because each segment is the same size and receives the same scale of treatment.

Static shuttle
Static shuttle

Credit for the interactive piece goes to Kevin Burkett and Rob Kandel. Credit for the print piece goes to Kevin Burkett.

Frack You, Gas Hole.

And not in the polite Galactica way, but more in the let’s drill you, rocks, and split you open. I could go in further detail about the injection of fracking fluids, but let’s leave the double entendre alone and talk about Marcellus Shale. It’s a layer of rocks in the dirt that contain natural gas. It’s a pain in the gas production industry (sorry) and thus is only economically viable when fuel prices are high.

So in the 21st century with high fuel prices, energy companies are hydraulically fracturing (fracking) the rock to suck out all the natural gas. But this might be (probably is) causing environmental problems and thus human health problems. Ergo the controversy. This has now reached New York and so the New York Times created a simple map with some key layers of information to explain the controversy there.

NY Marcellus
NY Marcellus

Note the useful layers of depth of the shale and where those intersect (or do not) with areas that have banned or endorsed fracking.

Western Pennsylvania has had similar problems, and the Philadelphia Inquirer has had an interactive special on their website up for a little while now. And by interactive infographic I mean largely just a play-through of static images. Unfortunately, the online content is not of the best resolution and leaves much to be desired. Fortunately the graphics would appear to be quite informative especially as part of a series. A pity they are not entirely legible.

Location
Location

Credit for the Inquirer piece goes to John Tierno.

What Philadelphians Think About Philadelphia

Yo, Philly, apparently Pew did a survey on what Philadelphians think about Philadelphia. And what better way to talk about a survey than through an infographic. So thanks to the Inquirer, that is what we have.

Philadelphians on Philadelphia
Philadelphians on Philadelphia

The interesting bit is that while there is a black-and-white, presumably print version, the website broke the whole graphic into its components and made them larger for web viewing. But, if you look at this example from the segment on immigration and diversity, they ought to have left colour alone. The two segments Bad Thing and No Difference use the same colour when they clearly do not mean the same thing. The black-and-white version keeps those two as separate greys.

Survey results on immigrants and diversity
Survey results on immigrants and diversity

Credit for the piece goes to John Tierno.

The 2013 Budget Proposal Visualisation Comparison Part II

The previous two entries have been about visualisations of the administration’s budget proposal for 2013. Today’s will be (probably) the last in such a theme. Perhaps some wonder if not the bubbles and circles of the Times’ visualisation, what?

Some might answer bar charts. Because we all love bar charts. But, as in this example from the Philadelphia Inquirer, sometimes we are left wanting more.

Budget overview
Budget overview

The graphic captures the size of the budget by general spending and revenue areas, but misses the story on how each has changed on account of this new era of austerity. What colour was in the previous examples, here instead we see it used to group the different categories of spending. From an aesthetic standpoint, the depth in the third dimension is distracting and the space between the two stacked bars (and the line separating them) does not aid in comparison.

In brief review, of the three visualisations presented over the past three days, I have to say that the Washington Post’s tree maps are the most useful from a design perspective, but sadly lacks in the granularity we see—regardless of the clarity or lack thereof in presentation—in the piece from the New York Times.

Credit for the piece goes to John Duchneskie.

Punxsutawney Phil’s Day in the Sun

Groundhog Day. It’s Punxsutawney Phil’s day in the sun. Or not. Depends upon the year.

Anyway, the Philadelphia Inquirer did a small piece about the history of this famous little groundhog from remote northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Past Prognostications of Punxsutawney Phil (Alliterate that.)
The Past Prognostications of Punxsutawney Phil (Alliterate that.)

Credit for the piece goes to Cynthia Greer.

School’s Out For Ever

While on holiday, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced a sweeping series of school closures and consolidations in an effort to create a smaller and more sustainable school system. As I spent my earlier years of education in the parochial system I had more than a passing interest in the story.

The Philadelphia Inquirer mapped out the changes, a cropping of which is below. As one can easily see, the bulk of the cuts came in the city itself and the suburbs in Montgomery County. The more distant, read wealthier, suburbs fared much better. Chester County, for example had a total of only two closings. Bucks only five.

Cropping of the School Closures in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
Cropping of the School Closures in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

Credit for the map goes to John Duchneskie and Cynthia Greer.

Thomas the Tank Engine, Meet Señor Jose AVE

This comes from an older article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but it is new to me. Anyway, it looks at a proposal for high-speed rail in the United States, specifically along the Northeast Corridor, the Washington to Boston route that includes Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, and New York. Anyway, go figure that we still have trains that run at a snail’s pace, even Acela has a low average-speed.

Comparing Routes and Modes of Travel
Comparing Routes and Modes of Travel

A proposal from a group out of Penn makes for an interesting debate, specifically in Philly a real high-speed route would require boring underneath most of Philadelphia to bypass 30th Street. Perhaps revitalising Market East—depending on how exactly the route would interact with the commuter tunnel currently in place.

The graphics are simple, basically an annotated map. But the variations in stroke weight and colour help bring contrast to the routes when looking at the entire proposal whereas the proposed route in Philadelphia has little overlap and could have made due with a single stroke. Another interesting piece is beneath in the comparison between travel times from Washington to Philadelphia, from Philly to New York, and New York to Boston. Without looking at cost—thought the article’s second page or graphics does that—we can clearly see that a dedicated high-speed rail system would make it even easier to travel between cities for short holidays or even day trips. Let alone business trips.