Sometimes, when the world is in crisis, it can help to look up to the skies, and some positive news came from a different planet last week. After going through “seven minutes of terror,” NASA’s Perseverance rover managed to successfully touch down on Mars. Our NodeXL #ddj mapping from February 15 to 21 found reporting by The Wall Street Journal and Al Jazeera offering insight into the rover’s journey to the red planet and the challenges of its landing. In this edition, we also feature a New York Times story about the boom in independent journalism in Russia, a look at South Africa’s coal mining industry by GIJN member Oxpeckers, and the limitations of data visualization in conveying the realities of large-scale tragedies.
Landing on Mars
In its most ambitious attempt yet to find evidence of past life in another world, NASA landed the Perseverance rover on Mars. The car-sized “robotic astrobiologist” will spend the next two years exploring the red planet. Through a series of infographics and visuals, The Wall Street Journal illustrated the stages of the rover’s complicated landing procedure and compared Perseverance to the other robots and rovers that have landed on Mars.
NASA's most advanced rover yet successfully landed on Mars. If alien life once existed there, the Perseverance is our best chance to find traces of it. https://t.co/uNnQMIffo9
— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) February 18, 2021
Understanding the Red Planet
Since 1960, Earth has sent 49 missions to Mars, with almost half of the attempts by the United States. Have you ever wondered how far away the planet is from us, or whether you would survive on its surface? Al Jazeera produced seven infographics to help readers learn more about Mars and compare it to our home world.
NASA's latest mission, the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, is set to search for microbial life, collect samples, launch Mars's first helicopter – and more.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) February 18, 2021
In recent years, large fires have caused devastating damage in Australia, California, and other regions across the globe. This visual story from the Guardian, built around several maps, shows how the fires have spread to previously untouched ecosystems. The maps are based on burned-area data from the Global Fire Emissions Database and NASA.
These concerning maps show how fires have spread to previously untouched parts of the worldhttps://t.co/f9hvmaQUH1
— Guardian Visuals (@GuardianVisuals) February 19, 2021
Covering Climate Change
Climate change is now a central topic for international news outlets, who often assign experienced journalists to report on the global impact of extreme weather. But for local reporters, especially in communities where climate change skepticism runs high, this kind of coverage can be a challenge. In Texas, a TV reporter who had previously been intimidated by the subject finally gained confidence after exploring high-quality research and data.
"My journey has taken me from avoiding coverage of climate change to appreciating it for the existential threat it is."https://t.co/yzfh0Ljj5F
— CJR (@CJR) February 19, 2021
Investigative Reporting in Russia
Western media outlets tend to be skeptical of news organizations which use unorthodox methods to gather and report information. In Russia, however, the practice of buying call records, cellphone geolocation information, and other data on the internet — a technique called probiv — has enabled a number of investigative outlets to lift the veil on President Vladimir Putin’s secrets. The New York Times gives examples of how this approach, used by “a new wave” of outlets, has led to crucial revelations. (Don’t miss GIJN’s own stories on the Navalny I-team and best investigations in Russian.)
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 21, 2021
Silencing Myanmar’s Protesters
The military coup in Myanmar on February 1, which overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, prompted hundreds of thousands of protesters to take to the streets. The youth-led opposition to the coup has been powered by digital technology and social media. But this in-depth story by Rest of World highlights how the junta has taken drastic measures to silence young Burmese protesters.
Since Myanmar returned to a form of civilian rule in 2011, its borders have opened, its economy has grown, and millions of its people have come online, connecting a new generation to global culture via social media #longreads https://t.co/SnWQzkFfo3
— Rest of World (@restofworld) February 19, 2021
The Future of South African Coal
With a number of major companies pulling out of coal mining in South Africa, the future of the country’s once-thriving coal industry remains uncertain. The Oxpeckers Center, a nonprofit newsroom, found that, despite the country’s move toward renewable sources, there are more than a hundred new coal projects currently in progress. In this data visualization, the outlet examined to what extent coal will remain a part of South Africa’s energy mix.
What does the future look like for South Africa's coal mining industry? @Andee_Mat reports for #MineAlert with some data on new coal projects. Read all about it here ➡ https://t.co/q6BULFgp7G @MarkOlalde @rydriskelltate @CentreEnvRights @DMRE_ZA @Code4Africa pic.twitter.com/GxYEZXeVR0
— Oxpeckers Center (@OxCIEJ) February 15, 2021
When it comes to construction, the sand from global deserts is useless, so to build our cities we have to mine specific types of sand. The pace of urbanization has rapidly increased the demand for this material in the last two decades, especially in China, India, and other fast-developing countries. This deep dive by Reuters, filled with eye-catching visuals, explains how unregulated sand mining causes serious environmental damage and jeopardizes livelihoods.
The messy business of sand mining explained: A 21st century construction boom is driving unregulated sand mining around the world – eroding rivers and coastlines, disrupting ecosystems and hurting livelihoods https://t.co/ZYiBl57I60 by @TmarcoH @SimonScarr and @katydaigle pic.twitter.com/HP7OvygtBw
— Reuters (@Reuters) February 19, 2021
Turning People into Dots
Shortly before the COVID-19 death toll in the US passed 500,000, The New York Times published a memorable graphic on its front page depicting each fatality as an individual dot. The graphic — intended to display a “wall of grief” — sparked a discussion among data journalism experts. In a Twitter thread, and related blog post, Francis Gagnon, founder of information design company Voilà, argued that The Times’ front page demonstrates that data visualizations fail to adequately express the devastation caused by the pandemic.
The more I think about today’s front page of the New York Times, the more it is for me another watershed moment for data visualization. But not for good reasons.
This graph is confronting us with the limitations of data visualization to convey tragedies. pic.twitter.com/kwG3zv23NF
— Voilà: Francis Gagnon (@chezVoila) February 21, 2021
Supporting Data Journalism
Are you thinking about your next data journalism project? If you need some inspiration, the Pulitzer Center highlighted examples of journalists who have used data to tell stories in an innovative way, including the “Land Grab” database of 11 million acres of land taken from Indigenous people and granted to universities in the US. The organization wants to support more of these projects, so feel free to pitch them your ideas.
THREAD: Data journalism is a critical component of holding the powerful accountable. We’re eager to support more projects that use DATA in ambitious & innovative ways by journalists around the globe, not just in the U.S! Get inspired by these recent data projects we've supported: pic.twitter.com/ijHGWSO64V
— Pulitzer Center (@pulitzercenter) February 18, 2021
Peter Georgiev is GIJN’s social media and engagement editor. Previously, he was part of NBC News’ investigative unit in New York. He also worked as a correspondent for Bulgarian National Television and his reporting has been published by the Guardian, Deutsche Welle, and other international outlets.