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Data Journalism Top 10: Climate Disasters, Olympic Running, Russian Healthcare, and Bulgarian Coal Plants

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A climate disaster in Germany, air pollution in South Asia, and deforestation in Brazil. Across the world, societies have been experiencing the impact of a global environmental crisis. Our NodeXL mapping from July 26 to August 1, which tracks the most popular data journalism stories on Twitter each week, found projects by local and international outlets looking into each of these worrying developments. In this edition, we also feature more data-driven coverage of the Tokyo Olympics by The New York Times and The Washington Post, an investigation into Bulgarian coal plants by OCCRP, and a guide to creating appealing data visualizations based on simple charts.

Fighting Fire with Fire

At first glance, it might sound counterproductive. But sometimes the best defense against large uncontrollable wildfires are small prescribed fires that build a buffer to protect communities and create better conditions for firefighters to do their work. Controlled burns are an ancient art backed by scientific data. Examining satellite imagery, The Washington Post explains the benefits of such initiatives and the obstacles to making more extensive use of them.

Waiting for an Ambulance

In Russia, if a patient’s life is in danger, an ambulance must arrive in 20 minutes. But an investigation by IStories found that people in villages and smaller cities must often wait much longer for help after an urgent call. The outlet estimates that 20 million people, or every seventh inhabitant of Russia, live in places where an ambulance from the nearest medical institution will take longer than 20 minutes to reach them.

Bulgarian Coal Plants

Two power stations associated with a Bulgarian energy tycoon may have under-declared carbon dioxide emissions for the past three years, according to an analysis of official data by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP). By doing so, the plants may have saved at least 26.6 million euros (around $31 million USD.) Officials at both plants have denied inaccurately reporting emissions data.

Germany’s Climate Crisis

With floods churning their way through western Germany and temperatures getting higher and higher, the country is witnessing first-hand evidence of a climate crisis. The newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung analyzed decades of data on precipitation, heat, and soil moisture to paint a more detailed picture of climate change’s destructive impact.

Stealing Brazil’s Rainforest

The Brazilian government is opening the Amazon rainforest to privatization and development. A project published in Bloomberg Businessweek, supported by The Pulitzer Center, reviewed thousands of public documents and conducted dozens of interviews with prosecutors, forest rangers, and members of president Jair Bolsonaro’s inner circle. According to the investigation, the government’s actions could have an irreversible impact on one of the world’s greatest natural resources.

Power Struggle

In Ethiopia, a colossal hydroelectric dam still in construction is expected to soon generate power and contribute to the country’s economic development. But the ambitious project has caused a dispute over water rights, and other countries relying on the Nile have expressed worries that the dam could reduce the river’s flow. This graphics project by Reuters analyzed data from the United Nations and satellite imagery to explain how the dam could transform parts of the continent.

Air Pollution

The majority of the world’s most polluted cities are concentrated in South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. But the lack of reliable national-level data has hindered efforts to examine air pollution patterns and their public health impacts in depth. The Third Pole’s Disha Shetty interviewed experts and looked at some smaller studies and international sources to investigate the issue.

Running Fast, Running Far

The Tokyo Olympics have produced some remarkable races, with sprinters breaking long-standing world records. Notable examples include Karsten Warholm and Sydney McLaughlin’s triumphs in men and women’s 400 meter hurdles. Runners often need to find the painful balance between speed and endurance. Still, this depends on their specific discipline. The New York Times invited three elite athletes to run on a treadmill and examined their results to find out the differences between running fast and running far.

How Old are Olympians?

Roughly 11,700 athletes are competing in Tokyo this summer. As usual, most of them are in their 20s. But the range of events in the Olympics has always enabled competitors from many age groups to challenge for gold medals. The Washington Post takes a look at the youngest and oldest Olympians in history and examines the age limits for different events.

In Defense of Simple Charts

Want to tell a story using data? You don’t have to be a design expert. In a piece for Datawrapper, Lisa Charlotte Rost argues that basic visualizations such as bar and pie charts can be much more appealing and easier to understand than complex animated graphics. The bottom line? “Simple charts are not boring when they show interesting data,” Rost writes.

Thanks again to Marc Smith and Harald Meier of Connected Action for gathering the links and graphing them. The Top Ten #ddj list is curated weekly.


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.

For a look at NodeXL’s mapping on #ddj and data journalism on Twitter, check out this map.

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