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Red State, Blue State: Election Maps at The New York Times

Location: Regency Ballroom Level: Novice
Presentation: external link
Average rating: ****.
(4.00, 9 ratings)

One of the most enduring symbols of the past several presidential elections has been the red-state, blue-state map of America. Each election night, millions of eyeballs have been tuned to news Web sites and television networks, waiting for the map to start filling in.

That map is just one of many data-driven maps from the election season. Maps were used to show which states the campaigns considered to be in play, where the candidates were raising money, which television markets were being targeted by advertising, and the cities and states the candidates were visiting — and those they were not.

But combining data with maps also presents a unique set of challenges. Forcing data to conform to geography can distort its accuracy. Population density often is ignored, as vast unpopulated areas can appear to have more influence on an election than a densely-packed city. Reducing a map to two colors, red and blue, can oversimplify the wide partisan spectrum that exists in the country. Showing too many layers of information can render a map indecipherable. And on election night itself, readers want a clear, up-to-the minute display of how the results are coming in, and how they are affected by the political geography.

Learn how The New York Times confronted these issues as they designed live election maps for nytimes.com and static pieces for the printed newspaper.

Photo of Matthew Ericson

Matthew Ericson

New York Times

Matthew Ericson is the deputy graphics director at The New York Times, where helps oversee a department of journalists, artists and programmers who produce the interactive information graphics for NYTimes.com, as well as all the graphics for the print newspaper. He joined The Times in March 2003 as the national graphics editor and has produced graphics on a wide variety of topics, including the 2004 and 2008 Elections, the War in Iraq, and the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Before coming to The Times, he was a graphic artist and Web site editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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Frank Williams
05/21/2009 11:02am PDT

Of all the briefs given, this one gave me pause for concern, as it shows the press will enjoy formidable power to shape and influence well beyond what occurred in the last election. Instead of reporting the facts for readers to form an opinion on, they will be mining and providing data like issues-oriented advocacy groups. There will have to be a lot of oversight and fact-checking when the press becomes the provider of data.