The Australian Broadcasting Corporation did a deep dive into the results of the unsuccessful referendum on giving Indigenous people a permanent voice in government. Image: Screenshot, ABC
This edition of our Data Journalism Top 10 — covering stories published between October 9 and October 22 — includes The New York Times’ graphic analysis of the waiting periods before Israeli civilians received any IDF response following Hamas attacks on October 7. Also featured this week: analyzing the first-round results of Argentina’s presidential election, a closer read of Australia’s “No” vote on a constitutional referendum on Indigenous recognition, and a look into Taiwan’s aging future. On lighter notes, we feature stories on what data tells us about the evolution of the romance novel cover and horror movie trends.
War in Israel and Gaza
Entering the third week of Israel’s response to Hamas attacks, with increasingly volatile regional reactions and heated international diplomatic efforts, media around the world continued to dig into various facets and implications of the conflict. Among them, a New York Times’ visual breakdown of the timelines of the Hamas attacks and Israeli citizens’ long wait before IDF responses and Al Jazeera’s breakdown of Israel’s military funding, including how much it gets from the US.
Bolivia’s Air Corridors of Drug Trafficking
Bolivia’s skies have become well-tracked routes for the transport of cocaine, thanks to longstanding failures in control and enforcement — particularly the huge delay of a radar system meant to enforce a major anti-trafficking law. A joint project by Bolivian newspaper El Deber and media nonprofit Connectas used open source and satellite data — and reviewed dozens of official reports, articles on anti-drug operations, court cases, and police and anti-drug force social media for clues — to identify 440 illegal runways across the country. They also showed trafficking routes, and whether illicit airstrips had been destroyed after they were discovered by anti-trafficking forces.
Deadly Poverty in the US
It’s not news that the US has a staggering life expectancy deficit, noted Financial Times’ chief data reporter John Burn-Murdoch, with the nation’s poorest suffering far earlier deaths than those in their developed world counterparts. But “focusing on a statistic which is an average for the whole population masks truly staggering disparities at the extremes,” he wrote. Making further calculations and comparisons to peer nations revealed that the US’s least fortunate now die 20 years earlier than in other developed countries such as Germany and France (paywalled); as recently as the 1980s, they could expect to live to roughly the same age. Digging further into the data also found that the driving factors for this deficit are not primarily economic.
Australia’s Voice Vote
On October 14, Australia held a nationwide referendum to decide whether to recognize the First Peoples of Australia in the constitution and establish an advisory body called the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. After a years-long campaign for Indigenous constitutional recognition, six Australian states and one territory returned a decisive “no” result. (The Australian Capital Territory was the lone region to vote in favor.) But the team at ABC’s Story Lab looked deeper to find nuances in the voting map, and what drove voting patterns across the country.
Evolution of Romance Novel Covers
Romance novels make up nearly one quarter of the US adult fiction market, yet the genre is unfairly dismissed, writes Alice Liang at The Pudding, who notes that romance novels have evolved — with stories reflecting women navigating careers, sexuality, and friendship, and more diverse characters. Cover art has also come a long way from “the clinch” — illustrations or images of “scantily dressed heterosexual lovers.” By analyzing over 1,400 books appearing in Publishers Weekly from 2011-2023, The Pudding identified major trends in cover depictions of racial diversity, art style, and raunchiness. (The latter has declined steadily on covers since 2012.) Another notable data point: the distinctively long-haired actor and model Fabio has appeared on over 400 covers.
Scaring Movie Audiences Through the Years
One of the basic building blocks of horror movies is the so-called jump scare — a filmmaking technique that startles audiences with an abrupt change in image, often accompanied by a loud, jarring sound. The Washington Post’s Department of Data dug into the data at the website Where’s The Jump — a “remarkable catalog” of over 1,000 movies, complete with timestamps of jump scares — to understand movie trends from the 1970s onwards. The technique reached its peak in the early 1980s with movies such as The Evil Dead, and after a decidedly less-startling 1990s, a 2010s revival peaked with 2020’s Host, which has the most jump scares at 0.4 per minute, according to the website.
Race for Argentina’s President
The first round of Argentina’s presidential election on October 22 resulted in an unexpected — given the country’s huge inflation and currency devaluation — first-place position for the ruling coalition’s economy minister, Sergio Massa. Javier Milei, a firebrand libertarian and self-described “anarcho-capitalist” came in second. The vote now proceeds to a runoff election on November 19. Argentina’s foremost newspaper, La Nación, parsed the results, looking at indicators such as voter salary, employment, and performance of the main parties compared to the previous election. In addition, it created an interactive map of results from each voting station across the country. Also: a quiz on notable soundbites from the presidential debates for readers to test with whom they agree.
Taiwan’s Aging Population
Startling fact: in 2021, Taiwan’s pet (cat and dog) population outnumbered children 14 and younger. A team at Taiwan Data Stories looked into the numbers behind Taiwan’s “aged society,” which is defined as populations in which 15-20% are 65 or older. (Demographically, Taiwan is also on track to reach “super aged” status by 2025, when that age cohort surpasses 20%.) A comprehensive look at demographic data and changes since Taiwan’s baby boom in 1950 revealed the reasons behind falling fertility rates, how they compare to the rest of the world, and what it means for the future. One trend seems clear: pet ownership will continue to rise.
How the Census Shapes US Identities
The US census — which started in 1790 and is mandated to occur ever 10 years by the country’s constitution — has played a crucial role in shaping ever-changing views on ethnic and racial identity in the US, noted The New York Times. In early iterations, the descriptions of peoples included terms like “free white” and “slaves;” over the centuries, new questions sought to understand and acknowledge the increasing demographic complexity. A new proposed change, for example, adds a checkbox for “Middle Eastern and North African,” which until now has fallen under the “white” category. The Times team analyzed census questionnaires dating back to the 18th century, and charted the changing range of identity markers over the centuries.
Dirty Air Loophole
An investigation from the Guardian, MuckRock, and The California Newsroom — a collaboration of several Californian public media outlets — revealed a loophole in the US Clean Air Act that has allowed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to exclude some pollution from clean air data, allowing local regulators to claim the air was cleaner than reality in more than of California’s 70 counties, affecting 21 million residents. The little-known “exceptional events rule” means that pollution from “uncontrollable” or “natural” causes — such as wildfires — is often not included in records the EPA uses to make regulatory decisions. The team mined thousands of pages of regulatory documents, correspondence, and contracts, and analyzed hard-to-find public data to get insight on how local regulators have employed the rule — which obscures the true extent and risks of unhealthy air that Americans are breathing. Read more about the reporting team’s methodology.
Alexa van Sickle is an associate editor at GIJN. She was previously a senior editor for the foreign correspondence magazine Roads and Kingdoms. She has also been an editor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a publisher at an international law nonprofit in London. She is based in Vienna.
Eunice Au is GIJN’s global team manager based in Budapest, Hungary. Previously, she was a Malaysia correspondent for Singapore’s The Straits Times, and a journalist at Malaysia’s New Straits Times. She has also written for The Sun, Malaysian Today, and Madam Chair.