The South China Morning Post created a deep dive visualization of the Gaza strip and the impact of the ongoing war. Image: South China Morning Post
As the conflict between Israel and Hamas grinds into its second month, outlets around the world are grappling with how best to understand, visualize, and contextualize what is happening on the ground. Our roundup of the best in data journalism published between October 23 and November 5 features a Reuters piece analyzing strikes on a refugee camp in Gaza and the South China Morning Post mapping historical borders of Israel and Palestine alongside analysis of the scale of the present-day crisis. Elsewhere, we highlight a deep dive into the deadly August fires in Hawaii, an exploration of plastic pollution in the oceans, and a piece on the rise and fall of musical genres on Spotify.
Global Attention on War in the Middle East
Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza are drawing increasing international condemnation. Amid growing calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, Reuters analyzed Israel’s attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp, which flattened buildings and killed nearly 200 civilians, according to the Palestinian authorities. (Israel said the attacks successfully targeted military leaders from Hamas). Reporters used satellite images, building damage analysis, pictures, and videos to map the strikes on the camp, and UN figures to show previously-known population figures for this and other camps in Gaza. Elsewhere, the South China Morning Post published a comprehensive explainer on the crisis and the complex history of the region, The Washington Post dug into internet and power blackouts in the Gaza strip, Spanish newspaper El País has a rolling story featuring maps and graphics, and Le Monde showcased the devastation wrought by three weeks of conflict.
Counting the Victims in Israel and Gaza
In war, it can be hard to square casualty counts from opposing sides, but putting the figures in context, and verifying the names and stories of the victims, can hold a particular relevance. Al Jazeera’s visualization Know Their Names uses data from the Palestinian Ministry of Health to detail the lives cut short as a result of the conflict. Reporters dug into the data to show the ages of those who have been killed, the Palestinian families who have lost 10 or more members, and to visualize what happens in Gaza every hour. In the UK, The Sunday Times created an interactive panel profiling some of the 200 Israelis identified as missing after the Hamas October siege, including those believed to have been taken hostage. Reporters verified identities by cross-referencing multiple sources including a list published by a group run by families of the abductees, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, media interviews with families, and by using a database made by two Israelis profiling the missing.
Maui’s Deadly Fire
Hawaii’s August blaze was the deadliest US wildfire in more than a century. The New York Times used video evidence, data, and interviews to reconstruct — hour-by-hour — the wildfire that razed Lahaina, the former royal capital on the northwest coast of Maui. In addition to presenting a sophisticated timeline of the fire, including its causes, the graphic storytelling — featuring video footage playing over various locations on the interactive map — allows readers to see what was happening in multiple locations simultaneously. Also interesting: Reuters’ look at the environmental fallout from wildfires, including toxic rubble and the chemicals created when built environments burn.
Women and the UK Housing Crisis
Ninety percent of lone parents with dependent children are women — who, with lower than average incomes and more caregiving responsibilities, are disproportionately affected by the UK’s housing crisis. A Financial Times analysis of social survey and rental data found that, in some parts of the UK, it is almost impossible for single parents who are women to rent a property. The crisis has led to increased homelessness and has forced many women to move into substandard housing or to relocate. This has serious implications for child development, mental health, and even womens’ safety — as the lack of affordable housing alternatives keeps many in unhappy or unsafe relationships.
Haiti’s Gang Violence
The 2021 assassination of Haiti’s President, Jovenel Moïse, tipped the country “over the edge into new depths of crisis characterized by ever-worsening violence,” according to this report by InsightCrime. Reporter Christopher Newton maps violence meted out by gang members to show how gang turf wars have proliferated across the country, but particularly in and around the capital, Port-au-Prince. The story uses data to show how homicides have nearly doubled since 2019 and how the violence is spreading beyond the old hotspots. The figures also show a dramatic surge in the number of kidnappings: on October 18, they report, the Secretary-General of Haiti’s High Transition Council was kidnapped in Port-au-Prince by men dressed as police.
The team at Our World in Data expanded their project on how much plastic is ending up in our oceans and the countries that are most responsible. The good news? “It’s a solvable problem.” The bad news? “Even if the world used half as much, we’d still have significant amounts of plastic flowing into our rivers and oceans.” The team charted global plastic production (which has doubled in the last 20 years), created a map showing plastic waste emitted into the ocean per capita, and revealed how “most plastic flowing into the ocean today comes from middle-income countries — particularly across Asia.” In total, around 0.5% of the world’s plastic waste — 1 million tons of it each year — ends up in the ocean.
Hundreds of huge fossil fuel projects scattered all over the world — in China, Norway, Qatar, and the US — are compromising our chances of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees C, according to Le Monde. Based on data and research, two French NGOs — CarbonBombs.org and Data for Good — have identified these so-called “carbon bombs” and the companies, banks, and governments behind them. The French daily mapped 422 oil, gas, and coal extraction projects with the greatest potential carbon emissions.
Rise and Fall of Musical Genres
How would you define the music you like to listen to? Spotify uses a number of alternative genre titles, including escape room, stomp and holler, and yacht rock, which mystify some but which might also explain why some of the genres that featured at the top of the most-played list in 2016 are now no longer in vogue, according to The Pudding’s latest data story. The team compared the genres that were most popular in 2016 with today to show a surge in popularity of songs performed in Spanish, Korean, and Hindi, and to chart where users are based around the world. As the authors wrote, with 100,000 songs published to Spotify daily, the data represents an “anthropological gold mine” for musicologists. Elsewhere, check out Bloomberg’s data dive on Taylor Swift, which breaks down where she’s made her millions and how her Eras tour brought much-appreciated revenue to US cities.
Almost half of the 1,150 or so publishers surveyed have blocked at least one AI crawler from their sites, according to an open source survey by Reuters news apps editor Ben Welsh, who published the findings on his blog, palewire. Crawler bots gather information from various sites and sources to fuel generative chatbots such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT and Google’s Bard. Building from Welsh’s data, Marina Adami, a digital journalist for the Reuters Institute, wanted to see how chatbots reacted to being asked for content from a news site that has blocked them. She asked ChatGPT to give her the latest headlines from the top five online news sources in the UK, the US, France, Brazil, and South Africa to see how being blocked affects ChatGPT’s responses.
India’s Junk Food Menace
Packaged food companies — thwarted in Western markets by health and environmental regulations — are turning their focus to developing nations with weaker public health guidelines and regulations. With data from the Global Food Research Program at UNC-Chapel Hill, Euromonitor International, and medical journal The Lancet, a Bloomberg team visualized striking trends such as the sharp rise of junk food consumption in India, with the rise in retail volumes for breakfast cereals, potato chips, and sweets dwarfing those in Europe and the US. Extreme hunger is still a problem in India — but the opposite is now also true: data from Bloomberg shows that India’s annual rise of child obesity rates is now the highest in the world, and almost one in four adults in that country is considered overweight or obese.
Bonus: The Sounds of the Pandemic
As the pandemic hit, graphic designer Heather Jones asked “What would a composition of sonic disturbance look like?” Every time an ambulance went past her home in New York, or a helicopter flew overhead, she noted it down, creating a huge paper trail archive of her personal coronavirus experience and giving us a lesson in turning a lockdown widely experienced as traumatic into something thoughtful and reflective. Read her account of making The Siren Project and an interview in Nightingale — the journal of the Data Visualization Society — which notes how the project created a “personal database of her auditory experience.” See the project here — it’s worth scrolling through to the paper notes at the end of the slideshow.
Alexa van Sickle is an associate editor at GIJN. Before joining GIJN, she was a senior editor for the foreign correspondence magazine Roads & Kingdoms, editing and writing features and producing the magazine’s award-winning podcast. Previous roles include editor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, publisher at an international law non-profit in London, and fact-checker at The New York Times Syndicate. She is currently based in Vienna, Austria.
Laura Dixon joined GIJN as an associate editor after four years reporting from Colombia, and previous freelance stints in Paris and Austin, Texas. Her work on the end of Colombia’s 52-year conflict with the FARC guerrilla group and the Venezuelan migration crisis was published by The Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and US News, among others. She has received grants and fellowships from the IWMF, the Pulitzer Center, and Journalists for Transparency.