New Media Mindset

Exploring tools, tactics, and techniques for news on the go

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words: NPR’s Interactive Graphics

Posted on | November 10, 2010 | 7 Comments

The beauty of radio is that I can enjoy it at times when my eyes are otherwise occupied, like when I’m driving. But there are times when I need to see something to understand it better. The visual enhancements offered on NPR’s website add dimension to a story that can only be hinted at in a few minutes of air time.

One example is an article on climate change trends. Three interactive maps layered on top of one another in separate tabs present current emissions by region, emissions per person, and projected emissions in 2030. The maps are colored to show emission hogs at a glance, and clicking on a region in any of the three maps brings up detailed statistics. In addition, three charts below the map show countries with top coal reserves (guess who’s #1 by far?), atmospheric CO2 concentrations since 1960, and CO2 emissions compared with Gross Domestic Product.

Are you embarrassed to be an American yet? Well, don’t worry, we’ll pay for our energy lust. Another map linked from the page shows what Florida’s coastline will look like as polar ice caps melt.

Florida, you scoff? What about Maryland? Well, let’s just say you might want to consider elevation when choosing your next home.

A quick glance at California shows you people will be leaving more than their hearts in San Francisco.

If you live in New Orleans you might want to consider building an ark. And as you tour the world you can kiss wooden shoes and tulips bye-bye, too.

“Enough!” you cry. “Is there any HOPE?”

Not much, probably, judging from this interactive map of the midterm election results. It shows Senate, House, Governors, and ballot initiative races, with colors shaded by percentage of win. Selecting a state from a pull-down menu provides detailed numbers for the races in that state. Apparently it was live as returns were coming in.

If you were smelling a hint of Rove behind the election night results, this diagram might explain why. Clicking on an individual or group in the diagram brings up text and/or audio details about them.

Need more evidence of American’s capacity to over-react to imagined terrors while completely ignoring very real threats? Check out this map of banned books.

Zooming in on the map brings up details about the incidents flagged, such as this one:

Colorado Springs, Colorado
Last Updated by Alita on Aug 7, 2009
(2008) Carolyn Mackler’s The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things was challenged at a Colorado Springs middle school library. A teacher reported that this book was ultimately removed.

And as the map caption indicates, this was also a crowd-sourced project in which readers were invited to share what they were reading in honor of Banned Books Week.

NPR has been at this for awhile and does an excellent job of adding value to their stories with interactive graphics that drive listeners to their web site for a level of detail that can’t be squeezed into limited airtime. This model probably serves them — and their sponsors — well in the shifting economics of modern journalism.


7 Responses to “A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words: NPR’s Interactive Graphics”

  1. MB
    November 11th, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    Your best post yet! Excellent. And I loved your own use of visuals. And I’ve been embarrassed to be an American on the CO2 emission front for awhile now!

  2. MandieB
    November 11th, 2010 @ 2:02 pm

    Ok, I thought my post was depressing! Living in Baltimore, if I don’t get killed first, I will be floating away at sea soon. And have no good reading material to take with me.

    I think these are great tools, though, for people to actually see the true cause and effect. NPR will not let people stay in denial.

  3. Kathy
    November 11th, 2010 @ 8:12 pm

    Great post. I think it’s terrific that NPR is doing so well with the visualization of stories. Radio can be a very visual medium — you just get to make your own pictures. Their sophistication with maps and such is a real delight.

  4. Danny
    November 12th, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

    I really liked how you tied all of the interactives together in a narrative. And I’m glad it seems the home health series is the exception rather than the norm for NPR.

  5. Amy Pfeiffer
    November 12th, 2010 @ 6:03 pm

    Very cool maps! And I’m impressed that you remember go back to websites after hearing a story on the radio for more information. They must be doing a good job cross marketing their news sources.

  6. Sean Mussenden
    November 13th, 2010 @ 9:02 am

    Excellent post, Rebecca! We’re going to discuss the rising sea level map in class today. I think it’s useful, but a few tweaks to add additional information could have made it more valuable. Not going to give away what I think, but something for you to think about in advance of the discussion.

  7. Joan Mooney
    November 13th, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

    Coming up behind the other commenters and agreeing that it’s an excellent post tying together the site’s varied interactive elements. Nice that NPR is doing these as a visual supplement to its mainly aural medium — and clearly there’s a demand for it, by people like you.

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