The Growth of US Newspapers, 1690-2011 from Geoff McGhee on Vimeo.
This animation is taken from the interactive data visualization of the Library of Congress’ “Chronicling America” directory of US newspapers. It shows all newspapers in all languages in the US from 1690 to 2011. View the full visualization at http://ruralwest.stanford.edu/newspapers. Created by the Rural West Initiative of the Bill Lane Center for the American West, Stanford University. Visualization by Dan Chang, Krissy Clark, Yuankai Ge, Geoff McGhee, Yinfeng Qin and Jason Wang.
This visualization of the rise and fall of newspapers in America is interactive and not to be missed. Click over to the interactive visualization (or open it in a new window) and then come back and read commentary. The folks at Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West have used Library of Congress records to create what they say, “would be fairer to call a “database” visualization than an omniscient creator’s-eye view of the growth of American newspapers”.
The trick with any kind of database visualization is that there is often way more information in the database than can comfortably fit in the first graphic representation that comes to mind. The folks at Stanford have done a masterful job.
Here are all of the variables I could pick out that are built into this graphic without overwhelming viewers with too much information:
- Time | They embed a timeline at the top and turn the whole image into snapshots across time. The time variable is critical to their message.
- Location of newspapers | They used a map with dots on it to show where these newspapers were being written. I am not always a fan of maps, but in this case, they needed to use a map because another main part of their message is the geographical distribution of newspapers, especially in the American West.
- Number of newspapers per city | Each city is marked with a dot that grows and shrinks over time as the number of newspapers in that location grows and shrinks.
- Language in which newspapers were written | The color of the dots correspond to one of seven languages, plus an 8th color for “other” languages. There is also a gray dot that represents all of the newspapers of any language. The languages and the pan-language grey dot can be turned on an off so that it is possible to see, for instance, just the changes in Spanish language newspapers.
- Publication frequency | This is a filter option that allows users to see only daily or only weekly/biweekly or only monthly+ publications.
- Textual description | There is a narrative about newspapers that is important to the authors as well as to us as readers/viewers trying to understand this massive amount of data. They chose to use 3-4 sentences to describe major changes every 10 years or so, less often before 1900. I found this to be the right amount of text – brief enough so that it didn’t overshadow the infographic, but dense enough so that it contained substantive material. Instead of trying to display major historical events on the map somehow, they use the text to mention things like the Civil War and Great Depression which allows them to describe the impact of these events on newspapers in particular.
- Actual titles of newspapers by city | If users click on a particular city at a given moment in the timeline, they can see a list of all the titles of the newspapers that were being printed at that place and time. The languages of the newspapers correspond to the color coding system for languages used throughout the graphic. If users want additional information about any of the titles, they can click on the title and be taken to the entry for that title in the Library of Congress database.
I couldn’t be more excited (or proud) of this project. [Full disclosure: I am not personally acquainted with anyone involved in the project.] Please go play around with it this weekend. Even if you are not interested in newspapers, it is impressive to see how they managed to create such a thorough graphic – a database visualized – without making it impenetrable.
More information about newspapers, the west, and rural America
For more on these issues, the team at Stanford has also released two written reports on this topic: Rural Newspapers Doing Better Than Their City Counterparts and did the West Make Newspapers or Did Newspapers Make the West?.
Bill Lane Center for the Study of the American West at Stanford University.
[Graphic: Data Visualization: Journalism’s Voyage West]
Jane — August 7, 2011
I would like to see this done for radio & tv as well. Understand, before TV & radio, even very small towns had several newspapers. Often representing different polotical views. our own company produced 2 a day - morning & evening - now that has melded into one as it has in most towns. I think in order to have a clear picture of all media, I would like to see if radio & tv are growing or also declining in numbers.
Laura Norén — August 7, 2011
Thanks for your question/comment. I don't know of any great infographic on the question of whether or not radio is growing, declining, or staying flat, I recommend reading Eric Klinenberg's book: "Fighting for Air: The battle to control America's airwaves". He deals with both TV and radio, but focuses mostly on radio. He looks at the way consolidation within radio broadcasting has impacted the decrease in the 'localness' of the content coming from local stations. ClearChannel has bought up many local radio stations in order to have a larger number of ears to sell to advertisers. They then cut costs by broadcasting the same music and pre-packaged national news out through all these 'local' broadcasting hubs. In this scenario, local stations may still be broadcasting, but they are broadcasting the same thing as a bunch of other small radio stations around the country.
It is highly likely that all of this is being done without needing to pay someone to sit at the smaller radio stations, which can make it difficult for local communities to get out information about breaking news stories like floods and other severe weather, for instance.
Hope that's a helpful resource for you.
Robert — August 7, 2011
It would be interesting to see the overlay of radio and television with newspapers in circulation. However, because the ownership structure of television and radio is different, another means of representing the changes would have to be figured out.
The major difference, it seems to me, is that newspapers are not licensed by the FCC, where radio and television stations are still regulated by licensure, which comes with certain requirements to broadcast to communities; also, while local (or rural) television and radio stations have experienced intense consolidation (from the Reagan-era legacy of deregulation), it's not clear that they are ceasing nor closing their operations, as many newspaper outlets seem to be doing. For example, in Duluth, MN, the NBC and CBS affiliate stations were owned by different owners at one time; today, they're merged, and owned by Granite Broadcasting, which also owns stations in Michigan, Illinois, New York, and California (for a solid account of radio station conglomeration, see Eric Klinenberg's work on Clear Channel).
At the risk of sounding reductive, the economics of owning a television or radio station remains a highly profitable enterprise, while newspapers, while not un-profitable, are experiencing shrinking margins.
What would be really cool to see is a graphic that can clearly represent the changing nature of media ownership for television, radio, and film corporations. I've yet to see one that captures the complexity or scale of the way in which ownership of media properties has changed.
Growth of newspapers across the United States — August 24, 2011
[...] Voyage West via Graphic Sociology] AKPC_IDS += "18542,"; Don't miss a thing. Follow @flowingdata on Twitter or grab the RSS feed for [...]
Growth of newspapers across the United States | | G.Fact – Communication design — August 25, 2011
[...] [Journalism's Voyage West via Graphic Sociology] [...]