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Week 10 – Data visualization, aka graphics

Just for fun…

Copy editing

Data visualizations

One thing is increasingly true wen it comes to journalism online: People don;t like reading long grey blocks of text.

“Small screens and ever-present distractions make it imperative that content be easily digestible and, if possible, interactive,” Tim Currie writes on page 295 of The New Journalist.

He adds that today there are more and more agencies, government included, that are making data public. These can be a goldmine for a journalist. But they tend to be database or spreadsheet tables — not very digestible.

So what to do?

“The answer,” Currie writes, “is data visualizations.”

Visualizations can take many forms, from a simple chart to a highly interactive Google map or Google Earth tour. But they shouldn’t be included with an online story just for the sake of adding something cool.

According to Currie, visualizations should:

  • offer a simple, compelling snapshot of data
  • provide a way to way to explore deeper meaning in that data

Word Clouds

These display the most common words from some document in a compelling visual form.

Take Barack Obama’s acceptance speech when he won his party’s nomination in 2008, for example.

What you see is just a straight transcript. Informative and valuable in its own way, but dull to look at. But what if we create a word cloud?

Suddenly, that dull block of text looks dynamic while still getting the point across. It adds something to a story about his victory.

This word cloud was created using You can also try and there are probably lots of other free options online.


Charts are handy ways to visually show data. They can be pie charts, bar charts, bubble charts, line charts — you get the idea.

Here are a couple really good free tools to create charts:


Yup, there are free tools out there to help you create interactive timelines, too! Here are a couple to try:

Google Maps

These are visualizations, too. But no need to go into Google Maps again. You’re all experts already!