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.

The Canadian Elections

Canada held an election yesterday. For your briefing on it, John Oliver did a great job on Last Week Tonight. But for the serious coverage, we have results.

Here we have the results coverage by the National Post. It’s your standard choropleth coloured by the victor in each riding, or constituency. From a design side, I find the pattern fill interesting and not something I have seen done before for a political map.

I just chose a place I had visited in Canada
I just chose a place I had visited in Canada

But I really like what the CBC did. They built an interactive application to cover the evening’s results as they arrived. This screenshot is for the riding in Fredericton, where my ancestors lived in the 19th century. (I had to have a connection to the ridings somehow.) In particular, I liked the ability to star ridings of interest and have them immediately retrievable. The CBC complemented that with a list of ridings to watch. It was a great resource for the evening.

Fredericton results
Fredericton results

But then they also covered the results with an article with interactive graphics. This is more your standard fare with choropleths, bar charts, and line charts. But they flow through the article quite sensibly. Overall, a solid results piece.

Party results per region
Party results per region

Credit for the National Post piece goes to the National Post graphics department.

Credit for the CBC piece goes to the the CBC graphics department.

Screening Your Luggage

Another weekend, another weekend trip. This time I’m flying to Philadelphia for a quick trip back home. Naturally, I’m going to pack a suitcase so I can bring some things back to Chicago from civilisation. But what happens to my luggage between my checking it and it being loaded onto the aircraft? Thanks to the National Post, we have a graphic to explain just that.

Flow chart for your luggage
Flow chart for your luggage

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz and Alberto Cuadra.


I just returned from my trip to Kansas City last night. Kansas, if you did not know it, exists within what people call Tornado Alley. That means they receive a lot of tornadoes. But what are tornadoes beyond the plot points of mid-90s action films? Basically complicated micro-weather systems. So complicated we still don’t entirely understand them. But the National Post looks at explaining what we do know.

Inside a tornado
Inside a tornado

Credit for the piece goes to Andrew Barr and Mike Faille.

Hunger Strikes

Guantanamo Bay and the US military prison there almost always spark a debate. For some months now, prisoners have been staging a hunger strike. Increasingly, however, the strike is garnering attention not for itself, but for the US military’s treatment of the prisoners in force feeding them. The National Post looked at just how this is being done in this infographic. Pay particular attention to the illustration of the tube, which is drawn to actual size.

Force feeding Guantanamo's striking prisoners
Force feeding Guantanamo’s striking prisoners

Credit for the piece goes to Andrew Barr, Mike Faille, and Richard Johnson.

Canadian Fur

The National Post published this fascinating infographic on the Canadian fur industry. Historically speaking, that industry is one of the most important to Canada being one of the primary reasons for Canada’s colonisation by France and later the United Kingdom (to a lesser extent). The graphic provides illustrations of the pelts to scale along with data on the volume and value of the trade in each type of fur. Then it maps the ranges for each of the animals with a matrix of small multiples.

Canadian Fur
Canadian Fur

While it may not be a mistake, I am curious about the two areas of polar bears in the northern United States. Methinks that the Rockies, while snowcapped, would be a bit warm for the bears.

Credit for the piece goes to Joe O’Connor, Andrew Barr, Mike Faille, and Richard Johnson.

Gay Acceptance

Last week I looked at a piece from the Washington Post about the possible impact of the Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage in the United States. But with the rulings yesterday, we step back and look at globally how the progression of gay rights has taken steps forward or backward.

The National Post looked at the reversal of bans of gay marriage as well as polling from several countries to look at changing opinions and perspectives across the world. Fascinating/horrifying are some of the stories about specific countries in the map.

Gay acceptance
Gay acceptance

My only real criticism is that the colour-coding of regions seems a bit jarring. I wonder if grouping countries by region would not have allowed the same data to be presented in a bit quieter tone.

Credit for the piece goes to Richard Johnson.


More formally known as Operation Chastise, the Dambusters Raid occurred just over 70 years ago on 16 May 1943. That night, 19 RAF Lancaster bombers flew over the English Channel with the objective of busting open three dams to flood and cripple the electricity- and water-supplies to the all-important German Ruhr industrial valley.

Canada’s National Post looked at the bombing raid not just because of the story but also because the unit consisted of not just British airmen, but also those from Canada along with Australia and New Zealand. Per usual, their graphics team did an excellent job illustrating the details of the raid. They traced the route, explained how the unusual bombs were carried, released, and detonated and then looked at the success of the mission.

The Dambusters Raid
The Dambusters Raid

Credit for the piece goes to Mike Faille, Andrew Barr, and Richard Johnson.

Aboriginal Canada

Recently the National Post looked at the results of a Canadian census that identified significant growth in people identifying with the aboriginal populations of Canada. As an American, I am not terribly familiar with Canadian native populations, but if I recall, they are broken into the three groups examined in the infographic: First Nations, Inuit, and Metis. The First Nations are the original tribes of Canada, the Inuit are the natives from northern Canada, and the Metis are the mixed-race persons of native and early European colonisation.

Aboriginal Canada
Aboriginal Canada

I find interesting the National Post’s use of network diagrams (the bubbles with lines) to show how the subcomponents form the whole. This as opposed to perhaps a more common form of a tree map or bubbles within a bubble. I would be curious to see or learn about which is the most effective at showing the relationship both in terms of structure (hierarchy) and size (without the datapoints included as labels).

Credit for the piece goes to Andrew Barr, Mike Faille, and Richard Johnson.