Data visualization, also known as data journalism, is an important aspect of how we consume news and information. According to DataJournalism.com writer, Sarah Cohen, data journalism “leverages a powerful cognitive advantage: fully half of the human brain is devoted to processing visual information. When you present a user with an information graphic, you are reaching them through the mind’s highest-bandwidth pathway.”
Therefore, how we visualize data and information is crucial in how we respond and grasp it.
In the first chapter of “How Charts Lie”, writer and professor, Alberto Cairo analyzes how people, including the 45th President of the United States, require visuals to comprehend certain concepts.
According to Cairo, President Donald J. Trump sat with Reuters journalists Stephen J. Adler, Jeff Mason, and Steve Holland to discuss his first 100 days in office. In the midst of the conversation, President Trump handed each of the reports a copy of the 2016 electoral map, where he proudly announced “It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us.”
That same map was crucial for the country to understand the voting patterns of districts, states, and counties. I, myself, would find myself zooming in and out of Florida seeing if Miami-Dade voted for President Trump — he lost our county. I used this map to analyze how the bluer (Democrat) regions tended to cluster around universities and metro areas and how red plagued small towns and mining communities. However, Cairo suggests that the map is misleading because the map was being used to “represent the citizens”, rather than the territory.
This map and how we analyze visual data only scratches the surface of data journalism, and Cairo ensures to emphasize that to readers.
To best promote infographics and data visualization tools, we as journalists need to be as cohesive and detailed as possible. We need to simplify the broad reality of concepts that seem innate to us for the average reader.
We have to make them visually appealing– but most importantly, we have to make them true and as cohesive as possible. It’s a large responsibility to ensure that we’re honest, detailed, and as simple as possible– and that’s a difficult task I hope to master by December.