The effect of the map timeline is anything but “sanitized.” Like the IED timeline map that The Guardian made for the Afghanistan war logs, the emotional impact for the viewer builds up over time, as the casualties accumulate on the map. This time, though, it’s just one day, and the pace of the scrolling text of the incident summaries encourages (enforces, actually) a slow read. The timeline begins at midnight, when the text rolling across the screen reads:
There is already fighting when midnight comes around. Insurgents have rocketed a US infantry base south of Baghdad and set fire to oxygen tanks. The Americans fire back and a civilian is wounded by shrapnel in the chest.
The summaries continue throughout the next twenty-four hours, each in the same simple, readable language. The map slowly fills up with colored dots, different colors for different incidents: American death; Iraqi death; arrest; kidnap; bombs or grenades; explosions; firefights; shootings. A red numeral to the right of the map keeps a tally of the deaths that day, as the text keeps rolling. In a particularly subtle touch, the background of the map changes from dark gray, to light gray, to white, to gray again, mimicking the visibility at each time of day and night.
The Times’s map is much more static and simple than The Guardian’s. This might be because the Times team is currently quite distracted by the midterm elections next week, something that Harris and Quealy acknowledged. “We’re running on incredible deadlines all the time, so we try to best present the information with the amount of time we have,” said Quealy.
Something that both teams said they had to keep in mind, besides time and staff constraints, was the danger of visualizing and “interactivizing” (Rogers’s word) too much information. “What we’re increasingly trying to do is to simplify stuff, because you can really overcomplicate all this,” said Rogers. “Just because something can move, does it need to? Does it need to slide across the screen, when you can do the same thing without sliding across the screen, and do it better? We’re wrestling with that all the time, [asking ourselves,] Are we overdoing it?”
(For further reading: Kevin Quealy from the Times described the process behind one of their most popular infographics, a map of Netflix queues by city neighborhood, in a very interesting post for The Society for News Design’s website, which you can read here.)