Earlier this week I did a quick rundown of some eye-catching interactive graphics that newsrooms at papers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal rolled out for Election Day. It would be unfair, though, to only focus on heavy-hitting sites that have dedicated interactive staff for such time-consuming projects. Across the country, smaller-circulation newspapers had to make the same decisions about how to visualize the data coming in on Election Night, but they had to make those decisions with far fewer resources. I believe the Times newsroom has at least two dozen people working full time on interactive projects; many smaller papers might be lucky to have a handful of people who know Flash.
Even if newsrooms have graphic artists working on election-result maps for the papers’ print versions, many do not necessarily allocate the same level of staff time to online displays. For instance, the San Jose Mercury News published several detailed maps in Wednesday’s print edition, but those maps did not appear online. Instead, MercuryNews.com displayed some simple pie charts, like these, showing the results of eight statewide races.
Karl Kahler, national/graphics editor at the News, explained that in his newsroom, the graphic design decisions are still made relatively separately for the print and online sides, although he is the first to say that integration would be a good idea. On Tuesday evening, his graphics team was mostly concerned with completing the maps for the next day’s print issue. They had to scramble to fill in all of the information as the poll numbers were announced.
In an interview on Wednesday, Kahler recalled a conversation he had with a New York Times online editor a few years ago: “I asked him, ‘How the heck do you put out so many data-rich projects on election night?’ He said, ‘Well, you get your data people to automate the process, import the data, and set it up ahead of time so it’s more or less automatic . You’ve got to talk to your tech people.’” To which Kahler laughed, “We don’t have those people anymore!”
Layoffs and staff turnover are obstacles to time-consuming interactive projects, obviously. James Meek is the only programmer working at The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, though there are about thirty people in the Journal newsroom. He and his editors decided a few years ago that Google Maps would be their go-to platform for their interactive projects, because it’s free and relatively easy to use. Here’s the simple map he developed to let readers look up the candidates in local elections:
Because of similar staff and time constraints, surely, some other news sites didn’t bother with any visual illustrations for their election coverage; they simply cut and pasted the election returns into text posts or spreadsheets, or just jazzed them up with colors and things. Some sites pasted a static graphic made for print into their online coverage. Still others built simple tools to help voters search for specific local results. Here’s one such simple tool, from the website of The Advocate in Stamford, Conn., a Hearst newspaper:
Search gizmos like that are easy for web programmers to put online, and they are helpful for readers who want to zero in on specific races quickly without having to scroll through extraneous information. What they don’t provide, though, is the big picture. They don’t tell a visual story, they don’t show geographic trends. For that, the best choice is a clickable Flash map that includes voting information, ideally divided by county. This one showing Dallas county results for the Texas gubernatorial race, on The Dallas Morning News website, is a good example: