Must-reads of 2012: interactives

A fantastic year for data journalism

As 2012 draws to a close, CJR writers brainstormed the year’s best reads in their beats.

2012 was a fantastic year for data journalism. Visualizing and the Guardian’s data blog both held inaugural data journalism awards. CJR launched the Between the Spreadsheets column. More importantly, however, this happened because news outlets really stepped up their interactives game. Here’s a run down of some of the top interactives and data journalism pieces from the year.

1. Gay Rights

The Guardian’s Gay Rights interactive really set the bar high for the British newspaper’s foray into American media. The piece, designed and built by their interactives team which includes Gabriel Dance, Feilding Cage, Julian Burgess, Greg Chen and Kennedy Elliott, drills right down into all the issues surrounding gay rights. It’s also an example of how social media can be integrated into an interactive in a way that moves beyond a simple sharing tool. The Guardian US added a feature that allows users to connect to their Facebook account in order to see how gay rights affects their circle of friends by showing them which states their Facebook friends are from and what rights they have there.

2. Trouble Voting

The Daily Beast hired its first data reporter in mid-2012 and has since continued to produce innovative and evolving pieces of data journalism. During the election, the Beast recorded all incidences of problems reported by voters at the polling stations and complied them into an engaging and experimental interactive map.

3. Wind Map

Among the charts on this list, some are the product of visual artists rather than journalists. The Hint FM Wind Map created was created in March but resurfaced at various points in the year, when the various storms made landfall. Unlike traditional weather maps, this one loads real-time data and animates it. The effect is a mesmerizing visualization that users keep coming back to.

4. Google Map

During Superstorm Sandy, Google’s Crisis Response Team created a map with all the vital information users might need during the storm. It was possible to filter by shelter locations, power outages and open subway routes. Google’s dedicated team works on these kind projects during natural disasters so was able to quickly put the map together in an easy to read format. Multiple news outlets embedded the map on their websites and distributed it widely to their readers.

5. Tangled Web PP

The beauty of ProPublica’s investigations is how they tussle with mountains of data to untangle complex stories. Their campaign finance piece, however, was a beauty unto itself. The team behind it, Al Shaw, Kim Barker and Justin Eillott, poured over figures from payments to companies and Super PACs to produce this wonderful Sankey diagram.

6. BBC Saravejo Timeline

Timeline’s are possibly the unruliest beasts to tame in the interactives world. The BBC’s Sarevajo one, however, gets it spot on. It moves through the key events in Saravejo thematically, with a unifying element of the chart of death counts marking the point in time those at which those events occurred.

7. Bear 71

Bear71, created by Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes, is another example of an excellent interactive that straddles a grey area of journalism. Despite it being essentially a documentary, its overt political agenda means its not a piece of journalism in the same way as the others on this list. That being said, its remains one of the most ambitious and engaging pieces of data journalism produced this year.

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Anna Codrea-Rado is a digital media associate at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter @annacod.