Lately, I’ve done a lot of writing about election charts. Especially regarding what you might and might not want to try to show, graphically, during the primaries.
I’m finding a lot of papers out there building huge map displays when, quite frankly, the story at this point of the election cycle isn’t about states or electoral votes. The story is a simple horserace to win enough delegates to wrap up a nomination. Big blue-and-red U.S. maps and electoral vote calculators won’t come into play until this fall.
Yet, there they are. Big maps. Many of them don’t really say much, other than to serve as oversized locator maps.
This is why I contributed a big article to the Poytner Institute back in January and then, again yesterday, I took part in a live chat, also for Poynter. Trying to help papers realize they should discard any preconceived notions about giant maps and instead focus on telling the stories they really need to tell.
How successful was I, for this Super Tuesday? Not very, I think. Judge for yourself…
This was a fine way to use map elements today, I think: Essentially as icons with chart material on tabular primary results.
That’s what you see here. A very simple tab chart containing state-by-state results for eight of the ten states casting votes Tuesday.
Where were the other two states? The returns weren’t in yet, so the editors simply left them off and plugged them in a footnote.
I like very much that the actual number of delegates at stake are superimposed atop each icon.
At least two other papers today took a very similar approach. Click either of these for a larger view.
Note the identical big headlines for each, as well. Heh.
On the left is the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., circulation 93,175. On the right is the Arizona Daily Star of Tucson, circulation 89,874.
DALLAS MORNING NEWS
Dallas took a similar approach, except instead of stretching its graphic out horizontally, it stacked its units into a square shape.
Here’s a closer look at just the Dallas graphic.
I like the little one-sentence snippets that round up what happened in each state. Brilliantly done. I’m wishing Dallas had shown us the number of delegates at stake in each state.
Note that instead of coloring all its states Republican red, Dallas color-coded its states to show which candidate won each. Lots of papers did that today, with varying degrees of success.
Belleville stacked its state-by-state roundup vertically, using not only the state outlines but also full results for each.
Instead of color-coding its state icons, Belleville put the mug shot of the winning candidate beside each. But did you really want four identical mug shots of Mitt Romney on page one? I suspect not.
Also note that results for two states weren’t in at presstime. The designer here planned for Alaska, but not for Ohio. Belleville was lucky, in fact — many papers went to bed before Idaho was called as well.
In addition, you can see one of my pet peeves here: Note how the states seem to be rotated. Clearly, these states were pulled from a conic-projected U.S. map. When you do that, states from the middle part of the country (see Oklahoma) are depicted as you’d expect, while East Coast states tilt way to the left (see Virginia, Vermont, Massachusetts) and West Coast states appear tilted to the right (see Idaho).
For the correct way to use all these state icons, see the four papers above: Dallas, Tucson, Allentown and D.C.
BAZILLIONS OF BAR CHARTS
I said during the Poynter chat Tuesday that bar charts might, in fact, be the very best way to present Super Tuesday results.
What I saw today suggested I may have been correct.
Crystal Lake, Ill.
The folks in Crystal Lake — in the suburbs of Chicago — built a similar graphic but a) wisely discarded the mug shots and b) used little bar charts instead of tabular results and map icons.
The results, I think are simple and clean and easy to read. This is what a good election graphic should look like. On Super Tuesday, at least.
Note the separate chart below the mainbar showing the cumulative totals of delegates each candidate had won by the end of the night and how that stacks up against the total number required to clinch the nomination (the big black bar at top).
Las Vegas, Nev.
Las Vegas attempted to do a similar thing. Instead of using quick-reading bar charts, however, somebody got fancy and decided to use a dot for each delegate.
The results are nice to look at. But I don’t find them easy to navigate. Not at all.
Part of the problem is that it’s all color-coded. Unless you pause to memorize which candidate is what color, you have to keep going back up to the top of the graphic to remind yourself: Ah, yes, Rick Santorum is green.
It’s an interesting attempt, though. I’m rather glad they tried it. If for no other reason than to help me prove how bar charts are one of the quickest and easiest ways to impart comparative data.
Bakersfield converted nearly its entire tab front to a cumulative bar chart showing delegate totals for the four candidates.
I have a few problems with it, however. I’ll bet you can spot what’s concerning me. Hint: Compare the height of the big “40” bar with the “85” bar.
Yes, Ron Paul‘s 40 votes should chart just a smidgen less than half of Newt Gingrich‘s 85 votes. Instead, though, Paul’s bar is about a third of Gingrich’s.
So, right away, we know we have some kind of charting error. Looks to me like Gingrich’s 85 should be about half the height of Santorum’s 156. But in fact, that bar is maybe 40 percent of Santorum’s bar.
And don’t ask me to explain the yellow bits. Those look like bars inside the other bars, but clearly they’re not. If they were, then Romney’s 183 yellow bar should be taller than Santorum’s 156 white bar.
I could go on and pick apart this page further, but why bother? If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. You simply should not lead page one with a chart if you can’t get the chart drawn correctly.
Sadly enough, I find similar fault with the front page built by my former colleagues at the Virginian-Pilot.
It was very slick the way the designer here slipped in a nice, dramatically-horizontal bar chart below the candidate cutouts.
Click on this for a larger view of just the chart.
Now, the way I’m reading that chart: The light blue bars are the number of delegates the four candidates had going into Tuesday. The dark blue portions are what the candidates picked up on Super Tuesday itself (as of presstime, at least).
But the red bar shows the number of delegates a candidate need to clinch the nomination: 1,144.
At press time last night in Norfolk, Romney had 351 delegates. That’s less than a third of what he needs to become the nominee. Yet, his bar appears to be nearly half of the red bar.
That can’t be right. And, rest assured, it’s not.
We just saw this chart a moment ago, in the Northwest Herald, remember? Here is a closeup of just the delegate totals.
Note Romney’s totals appear to be roughly a third of what he’d need to clinch.
And here’s the Pilot chart again.
About half. Apparently.
Now, perhaps — and that’s a big perhaps, because I’ve not emailed over there to ask — but perhaps that little checkered flag at the end is meant to suggest the red bar goes on a bit further. If that’s the case, then shame on somebody.
Never fudge on the length of a bar in a bar chart. Never.
MILLIONS OF MAPS
A number of papers did indeed use maps today. Most used them relatively well, if perhaps a bit large for the paltry amount of geographical data we had to show today.
This graphic on the front of the Omaha paper was fairly typical of many papers today. A color-coded map shows which candidate has won what state since primary season began in January.
The problem I have with that is that the primary isn’t about “winning states.” It’s about earning delegates. Thankfully, the folks in Omaha…
…ran a cumulative total beneath the map, color-coded the same way.
The result was quite nice.
My beef here isn’t with the graphic. It’s with the page. As much as I love white space, that pages looks positively serene — in a lazy Sunday morning features section sort of way. You’d never know this is a page-one Super Tuesday election package, built on tight deadline.
Beautiful design. But lacking a bit in overall effect. Minus a few points, I’m afraid, for imparting no urgency at all.
Let’s pause a moment to run through a few other — very similar — front-page maps from around the country.
The Arizona Republic in Phoenix a map very similar to Omaha’s, except instead of labeling each state, the Republic put in the number of delegates at stake.
My complaint here is a minor one. As we talked about in the Poynter chat yesterday, Republicans are now and forever associated with the color red. So should be be using blue — the “Democrat” color — to show even one of the four GOP candidates?
I’d feel a lot better if we could have found another color other than blue to use for Santorum.
Notice the Boston Globe did so, and it helped somewhat.
The problem I have with the Globe‘s graphic is that there’s so much material there. We’re seeing states won earlier, states won today, percentage totals for each state. Plus the big cumulative total is crammed in on the left, beside Alaska.
This was clearly an ambitious undertaking. They’d have gotten away with it, perhaps, if they could have gotten another few square inches of real estate to play with.
No offense intended to the fine folks at Honolulu’s Star Advertiser, but I particularly disliked this map.
Each state is color-coded. And, yes, Gingrich is blue this time. So minus points for that.
But here, each state in play Tuesday is lifted out in isometric fashion to form a little bar chart. You’re supposed to get a sense — from the height of each state — of how many delegates the candidate won in that state.
The problem with this? Yes, Newt Gingrich “won” in Georgia yesterday. But he didn’t necessarily win all 76 of Georgia’s delegates. Not many of yesterday’s races were “winner-take-all.”
In fact, I see Gingrich earned only 46 of Georgia’s 76 delegates with his win last night. Mitt Romney captured 13 delegates and Rick Santorum pulled in two. An additional 15 delegates are, most likely, uncommitted “Super delegates.”
You get the idea, though. There is no data-driven reason whatsoever to show those states like that and to color the state-stacks to correspond with the first-place candidate. No reason whatsoever. It’s misleading.
Now, in Honolulu’s defense, it did run the cumulative total below the map. But still.
Speaking of color, look at this map — from my friends at the Casper, Wyo., Star Tribune — and tell me what jumps out at you.
The dark red jumps out. But the dark black/brown color jumps out even more.
So what does the dark color show?
Um… no data yet. Primaries haven’t been held there yet.
Swap out the black and the light cream color used for Romney, here, and you might have a winner. While you’re at it, color-coordinate the bars across the bottom with the map.
Now, contrast that with the colors you see in this map.
Isn’t that nice? Easier on the eyes. And the “no primary held yet” states sit in the background, nice and quietly like they should.
That was the Ventura County Star of Ventura, Calif.
Here’s how all those map-driven pieces were used today on their respective front pages:
- Left: Arizona Republic, Phoenix, Ariz. Circulation: 292,838
- Right: Boston Globe, Boston, Mass. Circulation: 205,939
- Left: Star Advertiser, Honolulu, Hawaii. Circulation: 124,000
- Center: Star Tribune, Casper, Wyo. Circulation: 24,516
- Right: Ventura County Star, Ventura, Calif. Circulation: 61,621
ASBURY PARK PRESS
The folks in Asbury Park built a huge map for page one. It’s certainly not what I would have recommended anyone do on Super Tuesday. But they came close — damned close — to doing a fine job.
Notice that all three candidates are shown here using various shades of red. It’s not necessary to show Ron Paul on the map at all, since he’s not won a state and wasn’t expected to win one Tuesday.
The problem I have: The designer tried to use two shades of red for each candidate, showing previous primaries and last night’s primary. That meant six separate shades of pinks. Or, to be more precise, four shades of pink plus two shades containing white crosshatches to show Gingrich’s two states.
All of which, as you can see, was difficult to pull off.
What I like about this map: It uses light blue to push the states not in play Tuesday into the background. Do you see the slightly deeper shades of blue, though? Those states are up next.
This whole thing was used huge today on page one in Asbury Park and perhaps other papers designed by the Gannett Design Studio there.
It was interesting. but it doesn’t tell us what we really want to know: Are we any closer to nominating a candidate to face President Barack Obama in the fall? How much more of primary-season mudslinging must we endure?
Someone clearly spent some time on this map. But I think a simple state-by-state breakdown plus a cumulative delegate total would have been way better.
DES MOINES REGISTER
Des Moines, Iowa
Now, as interesting as that was, check out what was produced by Asbury Park’s sister paper in Des Moines.
It’s a huge, huge map. That shows us… shows us what?
Umm… Well, it shows us what states held primaries on Super Tuesday. And it shows us who won those states. The color-coded mug shots, in fact, are kind of neat. Kudos to someone for avoiding the Democratic blue.
And while the cumulative delegate totals are listed beneath the mug shots, that’s really all the data we get from this giant graphic. No state-by-state results. No delegate totals by state. Not even the names of the states.
Pretty odd for a four-column graphic, I’d say. Not a very efficient use of space.
But, man. It sure is pretty. The same graphic was used by another paper produced there in Gannett’s Des Moines studio, the 9,718-circulation Press-Citizen of Iowa City.
Note how we can tell the Iowa City paper has an earlier deadline: Ohio is not yet colored in for Mitt Romney.
Des Moines Design Studio director Ted Power posted these two pages and several more on Pinterest today, complete with descriptions and design credits. You know, this is the first time I’ve seen Pinterest used this way. It’s pretty cool to look at now, but Ted keeps pinning to his collection, this will become a jumble of pages on various topics. I wonder if a regular blog or even a Facebook gallery might be a better forum for showing off news pages.
Kudos to Ted for jumping on Pinterest early, however. I’ve not messed around with it yet. Do I need an invite or something?
BEST PAGE OF THE DAY
My favorite front page of the day was this one by the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News, in which the editors downplayed bar charts and maps and went with an alternative story form approach.
There’s so much goodness here.
- A side-by-side comparison of the two leading candidates and how Tuesday played into their overall stories.
- A quick, quick look at who won which state Tuesday…
- …but also pulling out three key states with three key results. Note the pie charts that run around the edges of the circles.
- And then similar looks at what I’ll impolitely call the “fringe candidates” — the ones who are not frontrunners.
Even the headline is brilliant. Hasn’t primary season just dragged on this year? Seems like it’s been a year since the Iowa Caucus.
And this isn’t the first time the Harrisburg paper has impressed me with its election night coverage. The Patriot-News took a prebuilt, modular approach to the Congressional elections in 2010. Find samples and read more about it at the top of this blog post.
FUN ODDITY NO. 1
Today must have been gesticulation day in Missouri.
Check out the side-by-side photos of Romney and Santorum in both the Kansas City and St. Joseph papers.
That’s the same picture of Romney on each, shot by Stephan Savoia of the Associated Press. The shots of Santorum are different ones but were both shot by Eric Gay, also of the AP.
- Left: Kansas City Star, Kansas City, Mo. Circulation: 199,222
- Right: St Joseph News-Press, St. Joseph, Mo. Circulation: 25,681
FUN ODDITY NO. 2
Given the dogfight we saw last night in Ohio, this was, without question, the headline of the day.
Yes, it’s a dumb joke. But I like it.
All of these front pages are from the Newseum. Of course.