A glimpse of modern reporting

Colin Raney turned me on to this project (podcast? article? info graphic? series? part of what’s great is that there isn’t really a good term for this) by the team of five running the Planet Money podcast for NPR. To explain toxic assets, they bought one, and are now tracking its demise:

losing $1000 isn't usually this elegant

Here I’m showing the info graphic, which is just one component of telling the broader story. The series does a great job of balancing 1) investigative journalism (an engaging story), 2) participation by a small team (the four reporters plus their producer each pooled $200 apiece), 3) timely and relevant, 4) really understanding an issue (toxic assets are in the news but we still don’t quite get it), 5) distribution (blog with updates, regular podcast), and 6) telling a story with information graphics (being able to track what’s happening with the asset).

I could keep adding to that numbered list, but my hastily and poorly worded point is that the idea is just right.

Perhaps if the papers weren’t so busy wringing their hands about the loss of classified ads, maybe this would have been the norm five years ago when it should have been. But it’s a great demonstration of where we need to be with online news, particularly as it’s consumed with all these $500 devices we keep purchasing, that deliver the news in a tiny, scrolly text format that echoes the print version. A print format that’s 100s of years old.

Anyhow, this is great. Cheers to the Planet Money folks.

(Another interesting perspective here, from TechDirt, which was the original link I read.)

Friday, March 26, 2010 | infographics, news  

Visualizing Data Book CoverVisualizing Data is my book about computational information design. It covers the path from raw data to how we understand it, detailing how to begin with a set of numbers and produce images or software that lets you view and interact with information. Unlike nearly all books in this field, it is a hands-on guide intended for people who want to learn how to actually build a data visualization.

The text was published by O’Reilly in December 2007 and can be found at Amazon and elsewhere. Amazon also has an edition for the Kindle, for people who aren’t into the dead tree thing. (Proceeds from Amazon links found on this page are used to pay my web hosting bill.)

Examples for the book can be found here.

The book covers ideas found in my Ph.D. dissertation, which is basis for Chapter 1. The next chapter is an extremely brief introduction to Processing, which is used for the examples. Next is (chapter 3) is a simple mapping project to place data points on a map of the United States. Of course, the idea is not that lots of people want to visualize data for each of 50 states. Instead, it’s a jumping off point for learning how to lay out data spatially.

The chapters that follow cover six more projects, such as salary vs. performance (Chapter 5), zipdecode (Chapter 6), followed by more advanced topics dealing with trees, treemaps, hierarchies, and recursion (Chapter 7), plus graphs and networks (Chapter 8).

This site is used for follow-up code and writing about related topics.