One year in vis

Hello, it’s Rose! I write for Datawrapper’s blog. Today I’m mashing up two of our usual series — the Weekly Chart and the Data Vis Dispatch.

This Tuesday’s edition of the Data Vis Dispatch was secretly a huge milestone: its first birthday! For the Weekly Chart purists reading, the Data Vis Dispatch is a blog series we publish every Tuesday, highlighting the best data visualizations of the past seven days. Lisa and I have now compiled 49 editions covering a year’s worth of beautiful charts, maps, interactives, and other visual stories that caught our eye, from newsrooms and individuals all around the world. To celebrate the Dispatch turning one, today I’m taking a look back at the 2095 visualizations from 232 unique sources that have been featured so far.

Right from the start, it was important to me that the Dispatch have an international outlook. After all, you probably already read the news from your own country — what’s interesting is to see at a glance what everyone else is up to. I spent a lot of time last summer hunting online for data journalists to follow from different countries, and every edition of the Dispatch ends with a call to send in tips on sources from outside of Europe and North America. Those efforts do pay off: some of the best and most regularly featured vis in the Dispatch is from teams like the Folha de S.Paulo in Brazil or SBS News in South Korea, neither of which I followed before last June. But still, we have a long way to go. I’d love to see this map get twice as blue next year, so please let us know whose great work we’ve been missing!

Reading over the archive this week was like taking a very weird, very fast trip backwards through the past year. In broad strokes, the topics covered in these visualizations are the ones I remembered as dominating current events in 2021/22 — the ups and downs of the pandemic, the elections and natural disasters that that come and go, the horror of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They’re all reflected in the charts and maps of the Dispatch:

Of course, the data news is not exactly like the other news. For most people, the Olympics are mildly interesting — in the Dispatch, they were the dominant topic for a full five weeks out of 49. Events like the release of U.S. census results or September’s volcanic eruption on La Palma, which you might not even remember happened this year, were major stories.

As I compiled this data set, I started sorting the visualizations into types: simple charts, complex charts, maps, and others. I had a sense from working on the Dispatch each week that certain chart types were more commonly used for certain topics than others, and was curious to see if the data would bear me out.

In fact, there are striking differences across topics. I used a generous definition of simple charts, counting not only the ones supported by Datawrapper, but also other basic static types like waffle charts and alluvial diagrams. Under this definition, fully 73% of pandemic-related visualizations were simple charts. Meanwhile, maps dominate coverage of the war in Ukraine. The “sports” category had the most unusual visualizations, including all kinds of complex diagrams, animations, and illustrations.

The Dispatch is already a bird’s-eye-view of trends in data visualization, and this Weekly Chart took us practically into space. Though there’s a world of visualizations that we haven’t discovered yet (send in those tips!), this is probably about as comprehensive a look as you’ll find at the past year in data journalism. I’m excited to see what the next year brings — and hoping that the news will be good and the vis will be better than ever. If you’re not already a Dispatch fan, you can browse the archive here or tune into the blog on Tuesday for the latest edition.

That’s all from me for today! Next Thursday we'll have a Weekly Chart from our support engineer Margaux.