Graphics that put the facts on the page

A ship mooring off the coast of Alexandria managed to wipe out the internet in Asia and the Middle East when its anchor hit two cables carrying the net and telephone calls of 75 million people in the world’s fastest-growing markets.

The result was chaos and a reduction in net traffic of 70 per cent.

It was a great story for graphics, which is where I come in. A news editor with experience on the home desk, my job is to coordinate editorial and graphics. The position, which is still not that common in British newspapers, came about with the paper’s Berliner relaunch and the ability to produce high-0quality visuals in full colour on every page.

In a way, it’s pure journalism. For example, a written story can say that a bomb went off in Smith Street. But we would need to know outside which house, on which side of the road, and so on. Just the facts, in fact.

The cables in question – Flag Europe-Asia and SeaMeWe-4 – are vital information pipelines between Europe and the East. The latter running in an uninterrupted line from western Europe to Singapore. The cables themselves, although reinforced, are less than 10cm in diameter. The story seems tailor-made to illustrate the fragility of our interconnected world.

Before I worked with graphics, I couldn’t understand why they took so long to do. Now I know that drawing things like maps or aircraft or tanks is not instantaneous. Often it has to be done from scratch and it’s fiddly work.

Googling submarine cables will give you some idea of what’s out there in terms of publicly available information: Nothing.

In the end, the answer came from one of the companies quoted in the accompanying piece. TeleGeography specialises in monitoring communication networks and produces a pricey wallchart, which shows where all the world’s submarine cables are, their names and where they go. Of course, it was in Washington DC, but after repeated calls we got hold of them and negotiated a deal for the info.

And the final result is shown above. It’s a very simple, clean graphic with an enormous amount of information on it. It tells us something interesting we didn’t know about the world. And it tells the story visually.

‘Comment is free,’said CP Scott, ‘but facts are sacred.’Well, these are the facts.

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