Expert Eye: How the UK press covered America's 'Super Tuesday'

I just love it when newspapers go ‘balls-out’with their coverage, and this week – what a joy. Super Tuesday, or in the case of the Democrats ‘Super Stalemate”, gave the UK national press the chance of utilising their graphic departments’ plethora of talent. Or not.

On Thursday morning The Independent gave us five pages of compact analysis, with a three-quarter-page graphic on page 4. It was an extremely comprehensive account of the previous day’s polls, and by separating the Democrat and Republican results, we could easily find and understand the where, who and by-what winning margin.

The map design is simple and crystal clear. Also, the use of the hugely under-rated and most wonderful of graphic devices, the ‘bar”, allows us to understand volume very quickly. ‘Delegates won so far’we comprehend, and likewise, the state by state breakdown. This example does not innovate, but it marvellously displays huge quantities of complex information perfectly.

The Telegraph was less ambitious, and over two smaller graphics, party by party, it concentrated its efforts in a ‘less is more’fashion. I was, however, won over by the clarity and detail of these examples. In a single bar, we can quickly understand pre-Super Tuesday, Super Tuesday, overall delegates won by each candidate, and how many more delegate votes they need win. The states won are listed, but not shown on a smaller map, which would have shown us, however little, about voting and demographics.

Across a spread, the Mail relied on the traditional text-only analysis, meaning an arduous trawl through at least 2,000 words to find key statistics and other important details. Unfortunately the graphic was a map which showed very little – who won what state, but not by how much. Where is the analysis, and why do I have to go back to the text, in the hope that I can try and find a relative nugget of information? It negates the point of a graphic.

Instead of a thoughtful, insightful example of visual reporting which exudes seductiveness, we only have a series of random statements such as ‘Democrats: Need 2,025 to win”, and ‘Republicans (voted in 21 states)’to pick from.

The Times deployed its toy figures riding on a donkey and elephant, rendering the Democratic and Republican logos respectively in a 3D race for the vote. Moving away from the comical ‘race for the White House”, The Times showed an impressively clean and crisp map, plotting state results with finely tuned typography.

The ‘jewel in the crown’is the ‘demographic breakdown”, charting female, black and Hispanic voters, against each candidate. Oh joy. The Times showed that raw data itself does not inform, but through sound analysis, and thoughtful presentation, that simple infographics is good journalism.

Finally to Farringdon Road. Any graphic from The Guardian stable is always good value. Its poll examples are no different. Always bloody-well conceived, and executed with the panache of a design studio. This work is very easy to understand, but compared to work that has won the paper so much international acclaim, its poll graphics lack the energy and creativity of award-winning work of the past. And unlike The Times, I did not find my ‘jewel in the crown’moment I so expected and wanted.

So what can we find in our newspaper graphic departments? Are we talented? Yes. We can design, illustrate and chart, very well. But the modern newsroom demands that we multitask, analyse and evolve. We need to develop journalistically, and become part of the decision-making process. These shifts are already happening in departments all over the world. We don’t want to be left behind now, do we?

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