How to create a low-tech data visualization using 2 newspapers…

The staff over at PageOneX have created a low-tech way to create a bar chart comparing the amount of news to the amount of advertisement space for a print edition newspaper. The ratio they found (and show) for The New York Times on June 20th, 2013 is approximately 2:1! Check it out:

ads-vs-news_nytimes_pageonex_p-1024x952

How to do this?

  1. Buy two copies of the same edition of one newspaper. You need two copies to be able to display both sides of every page. We used the exterior side of the papers from one copy, and the interior from the other copy.
  2. To be cautious, we  marked (draw a thin line) in the side of the paper that we were not going to use, to avoid having a piece of paper and not do not know which side is the one to use.
  3. Cut and separate Ads and News.
  4. Once you have the two piles with Ads and News, you have to make the bar charts. Keep’em straight and make them have the same width. To make the puzzle easier we put all the full (uncut) size pages together at the bottom of the  bars.

(Note: I did not write the above instructions, they are taken directly from the PageOneX blog – very clear and helpful!)

I think this is a great example of how communication and data visualization does not need to be complicated or high-tech to grab people’s attention or to be effective. This is a project that almost anyone could do, and gives us a great visual which has taken a lot of information and turned it into a form that can be read and understood in a quick glance.

PageOneX is an interesting new project which makes it easy to “track, code, and visualize major news stories based on the proportion of newspaper front pages that they take up.” From their about page, some context is given on how they came up with the concept:

PageOneX is an open source software tool designed to aid the coding, analysis, and visualization of front page newspaper coverage of major stories and media events. Newsrooms spend massive time and effort deciding what stories make it to the front page. Communication scholars have long used column-inches of print newspaper coverage as an important indicator of mass media attention. In the past, this approach involved obtaining copies of newspapers, measurement by hand (with a physical ruler), and manual input of measurements into a spreadsheet or database, followed by calculation and analysis. Some of these steps can now be automated, while others can be simplified; some can be easily shared by distributed teams of investigators working with a common dataset hosted online.” (Read more herePageOneX – About)

Hat tip to Chris Blattman (Assistant Professor of Political Science & International and Public Affairs at Columbia University) for re-posting this on his blog, which is also worth reading.

– Sarah Topps 2013

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