So ...How About That Election Coverage?

By Nora Parker

Joe Francica's article last week on The Media, Mapping and the U.S.Election - Just Plain Boring brought quite a bit of discussion.Leading up to the election, we had heard that some interesting technology was going to be in play at the major TV news networks.Generally speaking, Joe's sense was that if there was a lot of technology available, why weren't we seeing it? Here's a summary of much of the feedback we got at Directions.

Kris Goodfellow, Media Industry Manager at ESRI, wrote in.Basically, Kris reminds us that TV coverage isn't for GIS techies, it's for the world at large, and so we need to keep our expectations reasonable:

... Certainly ESRI could have done more, but what CBS wanted was less detail, more speed. Keep in mind that this project was for 20 million everyday people, not 20,000 GIS professionals.

To clarify our contribution, we were only a part of the John Roberts segments throughout the night.CBS has its own graphics tools that they used elsewhere.

What we learned through this process was that CBS didn't want to overwhelm viewers with information: no legends, no county boundaries, no cities on a national map, and three breaks in our maps.It's understandable under the circumstances. Our longest "hit" was 1 minute.Our shortest were about 40 seconds. Within that time, CBS wanted to show 3-5 different graphics.Viewers only really had a couple of seconds to synthesize the information.Most viewers have never seen a data driven map on paper, let alone on TV.

Where we excelled was in creating the live update maps within a couple of minutes.Never has CBS been able to update a 2D map for air showing the national county-by-county results in that short a time.Let alone doing it in 3D as we did every 5 minutes throughout the night.

So, CBS's goal was to provide viewers with contextual, clear maps.They wanted 20 million viewers get the gist of the information.As GIS professions, we see something this basic and wonder why not more? What does it mean? But when you compare this to NBC pasting an ice skating rink with a red or blue cutout of each states, you realize where most people (and producers) are on the continuum of geographic sophistication.

The 2004 elections were just a stake in the ground.We wanted to make CBS happy.In that, we succeeded.Hopefully next time, they are going to want to do more...

To take a look at ESRI's page on what they did for CBS, click here.Be sure to look at the fabulous animations!

Paul Overberg, a database editor at USA TODAY, and the person behind their election mapping, wrote in as well.USA TODAY printed very good election maps, and also saw a major impact on their web traffic through the election:

...Our traffic report showed great clickthru from the home front to the map.I think it was fully a third of the unique visitors who hit the home front, and about half of those who went to the main writethru. Our map link ranked No.4 among links out of blogs on Friday, according to blogdex.

There's quite a cottage industry out there churning out versions of the county-level map, especially by Kerry supporters who think ours is too stark, misleading, etc.A couple examples

Lots of ugly cartograms out there, too - even county-level ones.

It's surprising to hear how many people think we're trying to validate Bush's victory with the way we did the map (dichromatic, no shading, no cartogram).We heard it last time, too.We had good reasons - our map in print is 17.5 inches wide and 11 deep. What scale is that - about 1 to 10 million? Big enough so you can see even small Eastern counties pretty well.And big enough so the 2000 map, published as an inset, is still clear enough to do county-level comparisons.

That was a big reason why we didn't tint the two colors by margin of victory or use a cartogram.We rely on the county shapes and sizes to let everyone find their own spot, and those nearby, and those around where they used to live, etc.And let the record show we did the same thing -- in black and white - after the 1992 and 1996 elections.It's all a testament to the power of maps, I guess.

I dusted off the data from 1996, rebuilt it in color and that will probably go online with 2000 and 2004 soon.We probably will also offer it on glossy stock via the Web site.

Your readers might be interested in the interactive county-level map put up Wednesday morning by Ted Mellnik at the Charlotte Observer, which I think other Knight-Ridder papers may have linked to. He used ArcIMS, a shapefile and ASP...

Readers commented as well (click here to see the full comments):

Jane Kitson, WaveFront: ...CBS showed county level information on over 30 different maps...blacks, hispanics, elderly, poor, rich, blue collar, white collar etc....I don't think you saw enough of their coverage...but I can see why Dan Rather would have led you to turn over to another network...

Jeff Thurston, GeoInformatics Magazine: ...Us folks in Europe were waiting into the middle of the night for some cool mapping - which never came.wink ...

Brandon Plewe, Brigham Young University: ...Anybody see today's (Thursday) NY Times? Excellent, excellent series of maps throughout the election section (too bad they were printed on newsprint :-( ).And not just choropleth....Now, where do I get the data? ...

Phillip R. Cramer, Cramco Intl: ...We'll never see the county by county voting map on the Triumvirate media networks.Thanks to USA TODAY, we see that map of the United States looks more like it has a disease than a split in ideals.GOD BLESS "W".Liberals see RED.

Brian Hines, Energy Equity: ...Is there a GIS map available showing Precincts or Counties which use electronic voting machines by brand (Diebold, ES&S), whether they produce a audit trail, the vote tally, and the exit poll tally?

Ben Murphey, METRO: ...I'm surprised that Mr. Francica expected GIS analysis from network TV coverage.The networks tout "computerized maps and analysis" for the same reason that carnival freak shows have barkers out front...FCC requirements for public service aside, networks will broadcast just about anything that lots of people will watch. That's how we got "Surreal World"...Darn capitalism anyway...

Thanks, everybody, for your comments, and keep them coming if you've still got something on your mind about elections and maps.

Published Thursday, November 11th, 2004

Written by Nora Parker

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