The New York Times’ “Snow Fall” is still stellar.

Though I read it when it was initially published, I chose to revisit Snow Fall, as it was one of the first instances of interactive data journalism that I’d seen and recognized as something distinct from just a numbers-driven story. This distinction comes primarily from its unique layout and interactivity, as well as the fact that while data-driven, it did not rely wholly on numbers and statistics, but also on facts and details about the geographic area the story takes place in..Reported by The New York Times’ John Branch, the Pulitzer-winning article recounts the struggles of 16 men and women after they fell victim to an avalanche while on a skiing and snowboarding trip at Tunnel Creek in Washington State. The event left some injured and three dead.

Another aspect of the story which really rang out to me the first time I read it and again this time, was how Branch manages to intersperse concrete numbers and statistics into the story while still providing a — narrative. One might think that any emphasis on numbers in a piece of narrative storytelling like this might detract from the strength of the narrative, but in this case it does just the opposite by doubling the impact by incorporating the numbers in sentences like: “Within seconds, the avalanche was the size of more than a thousand cas barreling down the mountain and weighed millions of pounds. Moving 70 miles per hour, it crashed through the sturdy old-growth trees, snapping their limbs and shedding bark from their trunks.”

Screen capture of one of Snow Fall's visual components
Screen capture of one of Snow Fall’s visual components

Neither do the animated infographics and backgrounds detract from the piece. They once again do the opposite by giving readers a very firm image of the ambience and tone intended by the narrative. They also provide valuable visualizations of what it’s like to be on the mountainside, and where the group’s travels up and down the mountain took them.

I was blown away by how tightly constructed and well-planned this piece was the first time I read it in 2012, and it still has the same chilling impact nearly three years later. It’s not any surprise whatsoever that it won the 2013 Pulitzer for feature writing.

Data journalism portrays how education affects wages

Data journalism is an eye-opening tool to illustrate how people with less education are paid low wages in today’s economy.

The New York Times story, Why American Workers Without Much Education Are Being Hammered, uses data to drive this point home. From 1990 to 2013, there has been shift of male workers from once high paying manufacturing jobs to positions in food service, cleaning and groundskeeping. Thus, less-educated males are receiving wages that are far lower than those from decades ago.

The graph below, assembled by The New York Times, illustrates the low wages men without a college degree are earning in this economy.

Photo credit The New York Times. Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 22, 2015).

Also, the Times points out how the median wages of 30 to 45-year-old men who didn’t graduate from high school fell by a massive 20 percent from 1990 to 2013 after adjusting for inflation. The graph below from the Hamilton Project portrays this change.

Photo credit the Hamilton Project. Screenshot by Jimin Kim (April 22, 2015).

Therefore, statistics add credibility to how less education correlates to lower-paying jobs in today’s economy. Therefore, data journalism can strongly support a story.

Data Journalism Changing the News

What is data journalism?

According to analytics for fun, data journalism is journalism done with data. Pretty simple right?

To help explain this more, Simon Rogers, the date editor at Twitter, broke dow the key aspects with data journalism. To define it, he suggests that data journalism is about three things: telling stories with numbers, finding the best way to tell the story, and the techniques with which you tell the story.

Examples are the best way to have data journalism explained, and one of the best examples out there is the full text visualization of the Iraq war logs.

AP, the media site that started the visual, said they wanted to go a step further, by designing a visualization based on the the richest part of each report: the free text summary. The problem was that AP then had to somehow visualize thousands of written documents of data points.

PC: Screen shot
PC: Screen shot  

Above is a picture of the 11,616 SIGACT (“significant action”) reports from December 2006. Each dot is report is a dot.

Screenshot 2015-04-21 23.41.08 Screenshot 2015-04-21 23.42.05

AP quoted making putting the data together in order to help their audience understand the information better than if it was just numbers on a page.

“Visualization is metaphor. Certain details are thrown away, other are emphasized. The algorithms used to produce the visualization have their own sensitivities and blind spots. Without understanding these, a viewer will make false inferences.”

Because data journalism is so hard to define and so broad in the definition it already has, data journalism doesn’t have to stop at charts like these. Data journalism could be a moving charts, re-adjusting pictures, anything that helps get the point of numbers across in a way that isn’t just with numbers.

The Use of Data Journalism

As a journalist, one can always be looking for new ways to avoid being too wordy. One crossroad in particular is writing a data journalism story and incorporating all of the data and statistics needed.

A writer can easily lose their reader and cause them to become side tracked to what exactly they’re talking about. For instance, writing a story, or videography discussing the rise of zombie houses or the rate of domestic violence arrests amongst NFL players. There is going to be a lot of information and numbers.

Luckily, a writer can incorporate graphs, or even videos, to their stories.

Courtesy of USA Today NFL Player Arrests Database
Courtesy of USA Today NFL Player Arrests Database

Here, as you can see, is a graph showing the rates of NFL related arrests. Instead of writing out all of the numbers and names of the specific arrests, a detailed graph can be used instead. This also adds a nice visual to the piece as well. Now that you can save time on explaining step by step each piece of data, you can discuss other important things instead.

Another example is Newsday’s lifecycle of a zombie house. Rather than going through a written step by step explanation of the procedure that goes into the maintenance and problems of a zombie house, they instead inserted a slide show. This also makes the reader interact with the story as well.

Another thing Newsday had, which was different for me to see, was how you can type in a specific zip code and get the exact number of zombie houses in that particular area.

I find what both news organizations did were compelling to their stories. They left less confusion, numbers, statistics, etc. After awhile when you’re only reading a story through text it can become boring and tedious. Instead, I enjoyed the use of graphs, videos, and interactive slideshows to keep the story interesting, and it held my attention the entire time.

Definitely something to know for future reference.

The Upshot: an interactive form of data-driven journalism

On April 20 the New York Times published an article titled 1.5 Million Missing Black Men.

The article was to point out the fact that the most recent census showed a huge gap in the amount of black men in the country.

For some, analysis pieces can be kind of boring and dull. The way that this particular article displays the information is appealing to an audience because of all of the graphs.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 4.51.22 PMUsually stories that are data-driven are important stories to tell and report on. Unfortunately, not everyone will take the time to read these stories. The good thing about adding an interactive element, or a simple graphic, to a piece like this is that a person can log on, skim through a story, but still see there impact by viewing the graphs.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 4.54.20 PMThis graph above clearly displays the areas where the highest percent of black adults are missing. A quick look at this graph would give viewers the basic idea of which areas are experiencing this issue.

I think it is important for journalists to be familiar with how to incorporate these techniques into their stories because it guides the reader through more complicated stories where they can get lost with words. It is also a much cleaner and reader-friendly way to display data.



Data driven journalism helps understand war better

Data is typically used for statistics, finances, numerical trends and other news-worthy stories requiring numbers, but it can also be used to demonstrate information regarding war.

Currently, the most vulnerable Arab nation, Yemen, is under strife with clashes between the Yemeni government, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Houthi rebel group, security forces still loyal to former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and more recently, ISIS. Foreign help, such as Saudi Airstrikes against Houthi rebels and other forces, were brought about to help regain stability. The nation is down-trodden that the UN human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said the nation “is on the verge of total collapse.”

The New York Times published a data-story titled “Mapping Chaos in Yemen,” detailing where clashes occurred, which factions have control and where. For the most part, the only factions detailed are Al-Qaeda and the Houthis.

Dots on one map show where Saudi-led airstrikes have occurred. Shaded areas on the same map show Houthi territory and where they expanded after the strikes. What is not mentioned is if the strikes empowered the Houthis to expand or if what looks like an expansion is just them moving to different locations. It also mentioned how many people were killed or injured in certain places.

Screen Shot 2015-04-21 at 1.27.06 PM
Map from The New York Times

The second map shows the progress of Houthi movement from where they had the most influence at one point to today.

Map from The New York Times.
Map from The New York Times.

The last map shows where Al-Qaeda is operating, where the US and other nations led military action and where. Two things regarding this map: The first thing is that military is denoted in clusters of squares. The clusters vary in size, but there is no information as to why the sizes vary. My guess is the size differences show the scale-size of a strike. The other thing, which I would have done, is it doesn’t show a comparison of Houthi-controlled territory juxtaposed with that of Al-Qaeda’s. No map shows this side-by-side comparison, which is what I would have liked to see.

Map from The New York Times.
Map from The New York Times.

Overall, the story does satisfactorily tell the Yemeni situation using data and numbers.

Making numbers pop with data journalism

Let’s face it: a story that’s jam-packed with numbers and statistics doesn’t always hold a reader’s attention.

But sometimes, the most informative and useful stories are those that are drawn from specific data. Data journalism, according to VOX, a website that tracks the top headlines, tells a story with numbers instead of basing a story off documents and conversations. The numbers have to be significant enough for a story to emerge from them, however.

A data-based story cannot be complete with just simple reporting on the numbers. Explaining in writing won’t do any significant value justice. People need to see to believe. That’s why in order to be a well-rounded data journalism story, the story needs graphs and charts to put numbers into perspective. When considering the facts that most people read stories on the Web and how most people look to get their news the fastest way possible, graphs and other pictures explaining the numbers make the story flow easier. To make graphs even more fun, adding an interactivity feature is always a plus.

Screenshot of a graph used in Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.
Screenshot of a graph used in Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

A recent story posted on The Upshot, a section in the New York Times that’s dedicated to number stories, reported on the increase in drought that is going on throughout the country. The story includes a large animated map of the U.S. with blobs of yellow, orange and red moving throughout the nation. Those “blobs” represent the drought and it’s intensity based on where it is in the country.

The story didn’t just simple report on the drought, it took an ongoing issue, global warming, and combined that with the increase in number of drought-like condition in the U.S. With the interactive map, readers can see how the drought moves and what areas are being hit most intense over the course of the last few weeks. The map is also updated weekly.

Screenshot of the interactive map on Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.
Screenshot of the interactive map on Mapping the Spread of Drought Across the U.S.

Along with that one map, there are more charts and graphs depicting the numbers visually. According to the story, 37 percent of the country was in moderate drought by April 7.

For someone on the east coast who is not experiences the major effects of this drought, this story helped break down the severity by using five different visual methods to help me better understand what is going on in the rest of the country.

Data journalism: an easier way to read news stories

Almost a year ago, The New York Times launched their new data journalism section, The Upshot, on April 22, 2014.  This new feature focuses on politics, policy, economics and more, in an interactive format different from other sections on their website.

Screen shot 2015-04-21 at 12.39.21 PM

While browsing through the website, I read through some of the latest stories, but only one sparked my interest.  The title alone, “1.5 Million Missing Black Men” seemed interesting enough.

The article starts off with a couple of graphs followed by a couple of paragraphs of text.  That is how the whole article is written.  I have found that personally, when articles are written in this form, text broken up with photos or other figures, it is easier to read.

Screen shot 2015-04-21 at 12.46.15 PM

Not only is it easier to read the information that is in these graphs, but it is also more visually appealing.  Some of the NYT articles I have read, I have clicked out of, because they were too long or because there was too much text, with nothing breaking it up.

Screen shot 2015-04-21 at 12.45.16 PM

The Upshot is different.  These graphs and figures seem more interactive and are much more appealing to the eye than other articles you would read on the NYT website.

Tennis data reveals earnings deficit in the sport

FiveThirtyEight, a website started by Nate Silver, known for his statistical work during elections, produces data journalism galore for the public to take in. Carl Bialik, the website’s lead writer for news, took a look at the world of tennis and what exactly the landscape of prize money looks like in a piece he wrote back in December.

His findings in short were that even though there are thousands of professional tennis players, only a small fraction break even, with even fewer making a nice living for themselves.

How did he find that out? He used data.

One of his first pieces of information was a press release from the International Tennis Federation, which broke down the number of players who played a professional tournament along with average expenses and relevant statistics.

The bottom line, as Bialik pointed out, is that only 589 men and women made enough on tour to break even in 2013. Considering 13,336 players competed during the season, it is shocking that only four percent of them finish with the same or more money than when they first started.

Keep in mind, that is not making money, merely getting back to even.

The piece used a graphic that showed just how large the disparity in the sport’s funding between the top-tier and everyone else is.

The data shows that the top levels in the sport may make money to survive, but the lower tiers make next to nothing. (Credit to FiveThirtyEight)
The data shows that the top levels in the sport may make money to survive, but the lower tiers make next to nothing. (Credit to FiveThirtyEight)

This season, as the chart shows, there will be about $100 million worth of prize money on the ATP World Tour, where only the top-100 or so, usually more exclusive than that, are able to compete. On the ITF and Challenger circuits, the minor leagues in the tennis world, there is only about $10 million up for grabs.

Someone out there very well could have taken all of the same numbers and put together an entirely-written piece hitting on the same point’s Bialik did, but it would not be as effective. Millions of dollars is millions of dollars so the difference between the levels of professional tennis may have seemed big, but not huge. That is where the graphic really hits home.

Bialik did the same thing when taking a closer look at the funding for lower-level tournaments specifically. “Futures” tournaments, the lowest of the low-level events, provide the least reward for performance. But, those held in Europe have more money to give the players. Now, look at the graph:

ITF Events in Europe have a far higher prize fund than the same level event anywhere else. (Credit to FiveThirtyEight)
ITF Events in Europe have a far higher prize fund than the same level event anywhere else. (Credit to FiveThirtyEight)

Describing it is one thing, but numbers put into graph form makes the information used in data journalism that much more appealing.

Data journalism is making a difference

Data journalism is a specific type of journalism that combines aspects of reporting, computer sciences and statistics in order to release data and numerical information that otherwise may be to confusing for people to read and understand.

Graphs, charts and other types of graphics are often used to depict numbers and other statistics to make them easier to decipher.

The New York Times recently published a piece entitled, ‘1.5 Million Missing Black Men,’ which reported on the number of “missing” African American men because they are either dead or behind bars. The article stated that 1.5 million African American men are missing in the United States, with nearly 120,000 men between the ages of 25 and 54 missing from everyday life in New York alone.

Data showing the percent of African American men in U.S. cities and the number of those missing across the United States. (Graphic Courtesy of the NY Times)
Data showing the percent of African American men in U.S. cities and the number of those missing across the United States. (Graphic Courtesy of the NY Times)

Numbers alone might not make an impact, but a graphic created by the New York Times shows the places across the United States where African American males are missing. This can make people see that there may be an astounding number people behind bars or even dead, in cities that readers call home.Map of the United States showing where in the nation African American men are "missing." (Graphic Courtesy of the NY Times)

Map of the United States showing where in the nation African American men are “missing.” (Graphic Courtesy of the NY Times)

Data journalism makes these large topics and brings them down to a level so they can be understood by the general population.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then data journalism must be worth 5,000. This type of journalism is vital and should be used much more to shed light on topics that might otherwise go unnoticed.