O’Reilly’s Out

Of all the things I expected to cover this week, this was not one of them.

This is Fox New’s firing of Bill O’Reilly, their lead personality and heaviest hitter for the last 21 years, for accusations of sexual harassment both externally and internally. But up until yesterday afternoon, just how important was O’Reilly to Fox News? Well, as you might guess somebody covered just that question. The New York Times addressed the question in this online piece and uses a nice graphic to buttress their argument.

What goes up must eventually fall down
What goes up must eventually fall down

I like the use of the longer time horizon across the top of the graphic. But most important in it is the inclusion of the trend line. It helps the reader find the story amid the noise in the weekly numbers. The big decline towards the end of December looks important until one realises that it probably owes the drop to the Christmas holidays.

Then the bottom piece does something intriguing; it shows both the actuals and percentages side-by-side. Typically people love stacked bar charts—by this point you probably all know my personal reluctance to use them—and that would be that. But here the designer also opts to show the share as a separate data point beside the stacked bar charts.

I think the only thing missing from the piece is a bit more context. Is O’Reilly still the heaviest weight in the lineup? The top chart could have perhaps used some additional context of other shows over the last few months. For example, how does O’Reilly compare to Hannity?

Regardless, this piece does a fantastic job of showing the until-yesterday increasing importance of O’Reilly to Fox News and then Fox News’ importance to 21st Century Fox.

Credit for the piece goes to Karl Russell.

Metropolises of Murder

Quite a few things to look at this week. But I want to start with something that caught my attention last Friday. The Economist produced this graphic about the top-50 cities by the always pleasant metric of homicide. I bring it up because of the oft mentioned capital of carnage here in America: Chicago. (To which I’m briefly returning late this week.)

The capitals of crime, the metropolises of murder
The capitals of crime, the metropolises of murder

Note which city is not on that list: Chicago.

Some countries, sadly El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico, are among those expected on that list. But the United States is the only rich, industrialised nation present. Unfortunately this is not a list on which we should aspire to be.

The graphic itself does a few nice things. In particular, I like the inclusion of the small multiple national rate to the left of the cities. Because, obviously, high murder rates are not great in El Salvador, but on the plus side, they are down of late. And the same small multiples do go a long way to show that, in general, despite what the administration says, homicide rates in the United States are quite low by these standards.

My quibble with the graphic? Breaking out cities by country. Yeah, it does make a lot of sense. But look at that country listed two spots below the United States: Puerto Rico. I am not here going to get into the whole Puerto Rican statehood vs. sovereignty argument, but suffice it to say that it is a part of the United States.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist’s graphics department.

What Does Europe Want from Brexit?

Sorry about last week, everyone. I had some trouble with the database powering the blog here. Great week for things to go down, right? Well, either way, we’re back and it’s not like the news is stopping. This week? Brexit’s back, baby.

I’m never using the word “baby” again on this blog.

I have been saving this piece until the announcement of Article 50 by the UK government. I know the British and Europeans among my audience likely know what that means, but for the rest of you, Article 50 is the formal mechanism by which the United Kingdom starts the two-year process to leave the European Union.

Think of it like signing the divorce papers, except that the divorce isn’t unofficial for two years until after that date. The interim period is figuring out who gets which automobile, the dinnerware, and that ratty-old sofa in the basement. Except that instead of between two people, this divorce is more like a divorce between polygamists with multiples husbands and wives. So yeah, not really like a divorce at all.

What the EU wants from Brexit at a desktop scale
What the EU wants from Brexit at a desktop scale

This piece from the Guardian attempts to explain what the various parties want from the United Kingdom and from the eventual settlement between the UK and the EU. It leads off with a nice graphic about the importance of a few key issues in a cartogram. And then several voting blocs run down the remainder of the page with their key issues.

What the EU wants from Brexit at a mobile scale
What the EU wants from Brexit at a mobile scale

I really like this piece as the small multiples for each section refer back to the opening graphic. But then on a narrow window, e.g. your mobile phone, the small multiples drop off, because really, the location of the few countries mentioned on a cartogram is not terribly important to that part of the analysis. It shows some great understanding of content prioritisation within an article. In a super ideal world, the opener graphic would be interactive so the user could tap the various squares and see the priorities immediately.

But overall, a very solid piece from the Guardian.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian’s graphics department.

Building New Railways in America

I wasn’t expecting this piece to fall into the queue for today, but you all know me as a sucker for trains. So today we have this nice set of small multiples from the Guardian. It looks at…I guess we could call it train deserts. They’re like food deserts, except we’re talking about trains.

Some of the US train deserts
Some of the US train deserts

What strikes me is that in a perfect world at least three of these could be on one direct line. You can almost draw a straight line from Columbus, Ohio to Nashville, Tennessee and hit Louisville, Kentucky. Obviously things like property get in the way, but it is something to note.

Credit for the piece goes to Jan Diehm.

UK By-election Results in Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central

Labour’s collapse in Copeland in particular is comically bad, but this Friday indulge me in a non-comedic post. Instead, Thursday night we had the results for the by-elections in Stoke and Copeland, two long-held Labour Party constituencies.

Generally speaking in a by-election, the government of the UK can expect to see its vote share decrease if not altogether lose seats. Consequently Labour, as the party of the opposition, should have been expected to hold its two seats and increase its vote share.

Well Labour did win in Stoke, but its majority shrank by half. That’s not so good. And then in Copeland, the bottom sort of fell out. The charts I put together using AP data show what in Copeland was an historic win for the Tories. I could get into the hows and the whys, but you’re best off to go read a British politics site for that. But…something something Corbyn.

Look at those Lib Dems, is that a rebound I see?
Look at those Lib Dems, is that a rebound I see?

Marriage Rates

Well, so about that whole Michael Flynn furore thing I wrote about yesterday…. Time to add another name to the list of people to be appointed—as I said, that post isn’t confirmed, merely appointed.

But today is Valentine’s Day. So for all you lovebirds out there, here are some graphics showing how rate of marriages has declined in the United States.

It does a real nice job of presenting the overall national view, but then breaking that down into a state-by-state comparison over time, the small multiples shown below.

I can say that I was in DC for a friend's marriage during that spike
I can say that I was in DC for a friend’s marriage during that spike

My critique would be the labelling. Note how the state label appears above the chart, but how when stacked in a row, the label for the state below appears far closer to the chart above. The first few times I looked at this, I saw the label for the chart as being below. And I was therefore curious why Kansas was so different from the rest of the plains state. It just goes to show you how important spacing and layout can be on the page.

Credit for the piece goes to Matt Stiles.

A Look Back

Well, we are one day away now. And I’ve been saving this piece from the New York Times for today. They call it simply 2016 in Charts, but parts of it look further back while other parts try to look ahead to new policies. But all of it is well done.

I chose the below set of bar charts depicting deaths by terrorism to show how well the designers paid attention to their content and its placement. Look how the scale for each chart matches up so that the total can fit neatly to the left, along with the totals for the United States, Canada, and the EU. What it goes to show you is best summarised by the author, whom I quote “those 63 [American] deaths, while tragic, are about the same as the number of Americans killed annually by lawn mowers.”

Deaths by terrorism
Deaths by terrorism

I propose a War on Lawn Mowers.

The rest of the piece goes on to talk about the economy—it’s doing well; healthcare—not perfect, but reasonably well; stock market—also well; proposed tax cuts—good for the already wealthy; proposed spending—bad for public debt; and other things.

The commonality is that the charts work really well for communicating the stories. And it does all through a simple, limited, and consistent palette.

But yeah, one day away now.

Credit for the piece goes to Steven Rattner.

Diversity in the 115th Congress

Well, we have arrived at 2017. We all know the big political story in the executive branch. But we also saw elections in the legislative branch. But how different will the 115th Congress look from the 114th? The Wall Street Journal took a look at that in an article.

Congressional diversity
Congressional diversity

The article’s graphic does a nice job showing the two different compositions. But if we are truly interested in the growth, we could use a line chart to better showcase the data. So what did I do last night? I made that chart. But as I was playing with the data I saw some numbers that stood out for me. So I compared the proportion of minorities in the original graphic to their proportion of the US national population, per Census Bureau data.

Redesigning the original graphic
Redesigning the original graphic

The line charts, broken out into the House vs. the Senate and then into the two parties, do a really good job of showing how the growth is not equally distributed between the two parties. And the reverse of that is that it shows how one party has failed to diversify between the two congresses.

The 115th Congress might be more diverse than ever. But it has a long way to go.

Credit for the original piece goes to the Wall Street Journal graphics department.

The Electoral College

Well today we elect the president of the United States. Wait! you say, did we not just do that a few weeks ago?

Not really, no.

In the run up to the election, I and others saw the possibility that this election could result in a gap between the national popular vote and the electoral college vote. And people think that unfair. Consequently I decided to start working on a series of graphics to help explain the system. But before I could finish, the Washington Post published this piece that I think does a strong job. So, I am going to point you there instead.

The United States is not a democracy, but a federal, democratic republic. Though that may smack of wordsmithery, it is an important distinction. We are a democratic republic in that we elect people to represent us, we do not directly vote on matters of government. And then that federal bit. The United States was formed by sovereign states, i.e. the colonies and other independent republics like Texas and (sort of) California. Others were territories belong to sovereign states that we acquired through negotiation, e.g. the Louisiana territory and Florida. In short, the United States is not a unitary state ruled by an all-powerful central government. The central government only has the authority granted to it by the states and territories entering the union.

States are intended to be equal, but the democratic republic bit means the people need to have their say. So the federal House of Representatives gets a set number of seats divided proportionally by population (as determined by the US Census) while the Senate represents all states equally with senators. The House is elected by the people every two years and thus is more in tune with national public sentiment. The Senate serves as the more deliberative body tempering perhaps overly reactionary House legislation. It also serves to represent the interests of the state governments. Initially, you did not even vote for senators. Those were chosen by your state governments, often the state legislature. (I will save that topic for another day.)

The electoral college of 538 members comes from each state’s House delegation and its two senators. And because this is a federal, i.e. state-led, republic, each state determines how to divvy up their votes. Most states do winner-take-all. Two, Maine and Nebraska, allocate them based on who wins the House districts and then an additional two (from the number of senators) to the overall state winner.

That very complicated system was designed to ensure that states with smaller populations are not summarily outvoted and overruled by the largest of states. This initially helped the smaller states in the Northeast like Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Delaware, but also the slave states like Georgia. In 2016, this means that the states of the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains receive overrepresentation at the expense of the larger states like California, Texas, New York, and even my Pennsylvania.

The graphics from the Washington Post do a great job of showing not just how states today are over- or under-represented, but how that has changed since 1960. That is an important date given the Voting Rights Act that attempted to break down systemic injustices against minorities, particular blacks, in elections.

This small multiple map of the United States shows representation changes over time. Really well done.
This small multiple map of the United States shows representation changes over time. Really well done.

Is the electoral college “fair”? If this was a unitary republic, no. I doubt anyone would or could argue that point. But the United States is not and was not meant to be a unitary republic. We are a collection of sovereign states that grant power to a federal government. So in that sense, the electoral college is a fair, albeit not perfect, system that seeks to reallocate electoral power from high population states to low population states.

Credit for the piece goes to Denise Lu.

Detroit’s Housing Market

A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal published a graphic that I thought could use some work. I like line charts, and I think line charts with two or three lines that overlap can be legible. But when I see five in five colours in a small space…well not so much.

So I spent 45 minutes attempting to rework the graphic. Admittedly, I did not have source data, so I simply traced the lines as they appeared in the graphic. I kept the copy and dimensions and tried to work within those limitations. Clearly I am biased, but I think the work is now a little bit clearer. I also added for context the Great Recession, during which credit tightened, ergo more properties would have been likely purchased with cash. It’s all about the context.

The original:

The original graphic
The original graphic

And my take:

My take on it all
My take on it all

Credit for the original work goes to the Wall Street Journal graphics department.