Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: Journalism

The 10 best sports graphics and data visualisations of 2016

It’s year-end journalism time! My non-scientific round up for 2016 of the best sports graphics… drum roll please.

THE WINNERS (I couldn’t decide between them)

The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making
By Benjamin Morris
Publisher: FiveThirtyEight
A beautiful history of Sumo wrestling. Stunning photos, great charts – this is a model of modern data journalism coupled with great writing and presentation.

The NFL Draft
By Tim Meko, Denise Lu, Bonnie Berkowitz and Lazaro Gamio
Publisher: Washington Post
The NFL draft is a whole sport in itself: some teams play it far better than others. The WashPo nails a mix of interactivity, user input (pick your team), long-scrolling with story-telling to amazing effect. It’s not a “beautiful” graphic, but instead a whole application delivered brilliantly. Quite amazing.

AND EIGHT GREAT OTHERS

Premier League 2015-16 – the story of the season
By Neil Richards
Publisher / Platform: Tableau
Not mobile-friendly, but a great way to replay the 2014-15 season. Interactivity that’s integral rather than gimmicky. And it even has managerial sackings!
Notable mention: see also the FT’s rise of Leicester.

Perfect, Freaky Olympic Bodies
By Joshua Robinson, Paolo Uggetti, Siemond Chan and Mike Sudal
Publisher: Wall Street Journal
One of a great crop of Olympic graphics this year, this had no interactivity at all – just a very arresting set of images delivered with great style, looking at some extreme types of Olympic physique.

How Nafissatou Thiam beat the odds to claim the heptathlon gold in Rio
By Niko Kommenda, Apple Chan Fardel and Monica Ulmanu
Publisher: The Guardian
A lovely interactive graphic, coupled with photos and a great story to show how the heptathlon was won. Thiam needed the performance of a lifetime to steal the crown from the favourite. A good example of clean graphics enhance what would otherwise have been a great story in any case.

A visual history of women’s tennis
By John Burn-Murdoch
Publisher: Financial Times
This is how to do sports history. Brilliant. (Disclaimer: I’m a colleague and friend. But this is really good).
Notable mention: The LA Times on Serena Williams – a visual tour of her greatness.

Every shot Kobe Bryant ever took. All 30,699 of them
By Joe Fox, Ryan Menezes and Armand Emamdjomeh
Publisher: LA Times
Weirdly compelling, slightly unnecessary but fantastic all the same. Title says it all.
See also: Stephen Curry’s 3-Point Record in Context by the NYTimes

The current All Blacks are the most dominant rugby side ever. Why?
By James Tozer
Publisher: The Economist
Not visually arresting like others in this list, but a great statistical take on the All Blacks’ rugby dominance, and it has one chart that says it all.

A Visual History of Which Countries Have Dominated the Summer Olympics
By Gregor Aisch and Larry Buchanan
Publisher: New York Times
No list would be complete without something from the NYT, and this is a great visual history. Charts that you will just love. Brilliant. See also: the interactive medal chart. Accept no others.

There were some other great NYT graphics on Phelps and sprinting, for instance. But sticking with my rule of one per publisher, the last-but-not-least spot goes to…

Most Unlikely Comebacks: Using Historical Data To Rank Statistically Improbable Wins (in the NBA)
Publisher: Polygraph
This is just so well done, I love it. I just think you should see it.

So there it is folks. The best of 2016, completely subjective, as compiled by me. You may have your own favourites that I’ve missed, so please add in the comments. But there’s nothing at stake here, just great data journalism to enjoy.

Winners will (probably) get a copy of my book – I know, I know. But it is worth a read.

When it comes to FA Cup upsets, size is subjective

462140538

Bradford: biggest shock EVER?

What’s the biggest FA Cup shock defeat ever? For Robbie Fowler, it’s the Chelsea 4-2 loss to Bradford from yesterday (Jan 24). And in terms of drama, it’s clearly a great story. After all, Chelsea were 2-0 up and at home.

But for league placings, it’s not even close. With Chelsea top of the premiership, and Bradford 7th in League 1 (the third tier, despite its name), there are 39 teams between them.

Compare that to the 84 teams between Blackburn and Oxford in 1964, which according to Steve Porter, author of The Giant Killers website is the greatest FA Cup upset ever. Blackburn were 2nd at the time in the top division; Oxford were 18th in league 4.

Porter, who writes under the name Captain Beecher, ranks the upsets in terms of league placings, combined with a player quality metric using internationals and previous cup winners. Porter doesn’t spell out his methodology, but it’s clearly better than just using collective memory and non-scientific lists published in newspapers.

Porter sums up the problem perfectly:

On BBC’s Match of the Day programme, when asking the public if Bradford’s victory over Chelsea was the greatest cupset ever, they showed twelve of what they considered the greatest giant killings of all time. Every game had one thing in common. The BBC TV cameras were there. Not one game which was not covered by the BBC was considered. And so shapes our opinion. If you’re told something was a huge giant killing enough times {7th placed top flight Wimbledon beating Champions, Liverpool 1-0 in 1988. Surprise? yes but giant killing? Really? 7th vs 1st in the Premier League?} You start to accept that it’s true. ITV are a little more impartial, perhaps because they don’t have as much cup footage to be able to make lists exclusively thiers. The problem when compiling such lists is that every time a particular tie is overlooked, it’s chances of being placed in the next TV countdown, or magazine article diminishes.

And where does Porter’s system put Chelsea-Bradford? It’s 15th on his all-time list. Not bad, but it is interesting that it is lower down than non-league Luton’s 1-0 victory over the Premiership’s Norwich only 2 seasons ago, which is in 7th place. That didn’t even make the BBC’s list in the studio analysis. Memories are short, eh?

Being subjective, turning round a 2-goal deficit to 4-2 at Stamford Bridge is an extraordinary result. But perhaps the BBC could, with all its resources, dig up a few proper stats like Porter’s.

See also:
Interactive football league tables

Van Gaal’s first five games: where’s the significance?

There’s a lovely moment in the film Moneyball, when Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) and his new nerdy assistant are in a meeting with the owner of the Oakland As. Data-cruncher Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) tries to point out that the run of poor results isn’t a “big enough sample to be significant” but is quietly shut down by Beane, as he doesn’t want stats talk in front of the owner.

But they were right. The question though, is always a good one. In fact, it’s the key one. Just as important as what data we are using is whether or not the sample is big enough.

In football, the key sample size is usually 38 – that’s a season of 20 teams playing home and away. It’s enough to determine the winner of the Premier League. What isn’t enough is five games.

Take a look at this graphic from the BBC. Ignore the fact that it’s in a column written by the normally insightful Robbie Savage – I’m sure he didn’t approve the graphic, let alone create it. He knows his stuff. His insight into the defence and selection policy of Van Gaal reads well. And Savage likes his stats, but he’s no statistician. This graphic, and the argument that after five games, Van Gaal has a poorer record than Moyes is pretty shabby.

Clearly, the chart suggests that Louis van Gaal is an inferior manager to the dumped David Moyes. Look at all the money! Where are the results? Oh, where to begin?

Firstly, league position after five games is totally meaningless. Teams fly up and down the table with a few results at this stage of the season.

Next, money spent – how is that relevant? Man U have sold players too, but that hasn’t been put into this figure. Same goes for signings. In fact, you could argue that the higher signings should take longer to bed in.

But most importantly, five games is NOT A SIGNIFICANT SAMPLE. There happens to be a run of five games under Moyes where ManU got fewer points than this, at a very similar stage of the season. If you picked premiership games 2 to 6 under Moyes, you get this run of results:

game 2 Drew (Chelsea) 0-0
game 3 Lost (Liverpool) 0-1
game 4 Won (C Palace) 2-0
game 5 Lost (Man City) 1-4
game 6 Lost (WBA) 1-2

That’s a run of five games with just four points! It just happens to be games 2-6 not 1-5.

In fact, there were two other five-game runs of two losses, two draws and a win – ie 5 points – under Moyes during last season.

What happens for the next 20 to 30 games will tell us about van Gaal’s signings and tactics. Five games tells you nothing about Man U, and everything about the journalism.

How do you do a headline about Korea?

The subeditor’s craft is a tricky one. Original headlines are hard to come by. Some are so obvious and clichéd that they are banned in style guides – at my old employer Euromoney, using the phrase “banking on success” was almost a sackable offence.

And yet there is something of a lack of imagination doing the rounds regarding North Korea. Let’s see”

a) the country is a problem – rockets, nuclear worries, terrible regime etc
b) it rhymes with “Maria”
c) everyone remembers the Sound of Music

Result?

“How do you solve a problem like Korea” 

Used by?

It’s not UK-only either. See Time, and Global Post. And that’s just from a few quick Google searches. There will be countless others (41,600 results as of today).

It’s not every headline that is shared by the Sun and the Economist, but this one is such a classic, it spans every type of publication. I bet we haven’t seen the last of it.

The Getty watermark is a stroke of genius. Here’s why.

I had an article in today’s FT (June 1, 2012) on Getty Images watermark (Getty shifts with new stamp of ownership), but in the interests of journalistic fairness, I couldn’t say exactly what I thought. So here’s what I think.

In brief: the company has changed the watermark from an obstructive, possessive gesture to a helpful, open one. It is not longer a simple stamp across the image, but a cleaner box with a short-form URL and a photographer credit.

It’s a stroke of genius, in my view. Why? Well, there are several reasons I can see. In no particular order: Continue reading

John Terry vs Chris Huhne, Fred Goodwin vs Johann Hari: why it pays to wait

I can’t help thinking about four recent falls from grace. In essence, two are about awards, the other two about pre-emptive punishment. In all cases, we could benefit from being less hasty. I’ll explain why.

Let’s start with pre-emptive punishment. John Terry was stripped of the England captaincy while pending an investigation over racist abuse. Chris Huhne quit the cabinet following charges over his wife taking speeding points for him.

In these cases, the alleged crimes are totally different, but the principle is the same. Should someone step down from high office (the cabinet, the captain of English football) before their case is heard? And in both instances, the MP and player can remain just that. Why not go further – if they are not acceptable to lead the team, should they even be in it? If Huhne is not fit for cabinet, should he represent his constituents in Parliament?

Yet it was over the Terry case, the more morally worrisome and noxious case, and over an individual with prior bad behaviour (violence, infidelity), that Fabio Capello, England manager resigned. Capello said it was unfair to pre-judge the case. And surely, he has a point? If Terry is innocent, will the FA give him back the captaincy? About as likely as Capello managing England again.

Terry may be an odious person, certainly. But this is all the more reason to not give him the captaincy in the first place.

Which brings me neatly to getting things right in the first place.

Fred Goodwin was stripped of his knighthood. Johann Hari was forced to give back his Orwell prize for journalism.

In both cases, it seems the witch-hunt was hugely enjoyable for the press and public alike. Goodwin is an unrepentant, apparently unpleasant banker. Hari is a delusional journalist, protected by the Independent who should have sacked him when his dishonesty came to light.

In both cases, their prizes inflated their egos and should not have been given. Neither man can be blamed for accepting. If you are a multi-millionaire banker dealmaker, or a fêted journalist, darling of the left, a gong is exactly what you think you should be getting.

And yes, in both cases, a few checks would have made all the difference. Did Hari’s article stand up to scrutiny? It fell over pretty fast, as soon as a light was shone on his sources. Why give knighthoods to sitting CEOs? Why not wait and see if their deals work out, or if they bring a bank (and the country) to its knees?

In all four cases, it pays to wait, check and not jump in. Should Huhne still be a minister? If Terry was a good choice for captain before (he wasn’t), he still would be now. Hari should not have been awarded the Orwell prize; Goodwin should never have got close to a knighthood in the first place.

A banker, a footballer, a politician, a journalist. Very different crimes or charges. These men are problematic, certainly, but our eagerness to award or judge makes the problem far worse.

Occupy Wall Street: how quick were the media on the uptake?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is spreading and sprawling, into different countries and encompassing many issues.

But how fast did it take for the news media to catch on? This is possible to quantify using two things – Factiva to show the volume of news, and Google Trends to show how people are searching.

Factiva searches give the volume of news articles by day. Google Trends show the search relevance and volume. Plot them together, and you get an idea of when the public were searching for something, and when the mainstream media wrote about it.

Here’s the chart:

You can see straight away that there is a two day lag between the Factiva news peak and the Google peak, on October 15th for search and October 17th for news.

But there was a previous search peak on Oct 6th that was scored 15.7 by Google, not far below the peak of 18.1. But the Factiva volume at that point was 349, over 50 per cent below the highest single day news volume of 792.

In fact, up to the peak, there is a news lag, shown by the gap between the pink line and the blue bars. After the peak, the blue bars trend higher than the pink line, suggesting that the news media is playing catch-up while searching has tailed off.

Ok, some caveats. Google Trends is good – it made a big deal about how it could predict outbreaks of flu back in 2008. But it’s not everything, and Twitter data might be even more revealing. Ditto Factiva: an excellent source, but if we looked at their blogs results rather than news publications, it would be closer to the google trend line.

But I think it’s an interesting way to see what we are searching for, and writing about – and where the gaps are.

How Georgia rules the newspaper web fonts

What have the Guardian, Times, Telegraph, FT and Independent got in common (aside from being UK newspapers)? Politically? Not much. Ownership? Couldn’t be more different. Style? Now you are getting somewhere.

If you’ve ever surfed a few news websites and had a sense of deja vu, that’s because you have seen it before. All the papers listed above use Georgia as their main headline font – and most use it for the text as well.

While print editions of newspapers try their best to look different, it seems all broadsheet or quality press outfits online look the same. Georgia everywhere. It’s true of my employer, the FT, which has adopted the font in its last redesign, and it’s true of most US papers too.

Interestingly, the tabloid press are keener on Arial and other sans-serif (ie non-twiddly) fonts.

So why are the newspaper sites gravitating to one font? Georgia is a classy font, but why is it the be-all and end-all?

One reason is web standards. If you want a consistent look for your site, you have to use a font that is compatible with all browsers and devices, so you can be sure of your how it renders, and Georgia (along with Arial and a few others) is one of those ‘base’ fonts.

But this is crazy. In this web environment, you can pick any font using css (stylesheets) and tell the browser what to do if it doesn’t recognise that font. It’s just a list – you could start with something exotic, and then put Georgia as the backup. I’m baffled as to why sites don’t do this. The spacing issue isn’t an issue, as headlines change in length all the time. You can even specify different stylesheets for different devices if you need. The world has moved on, but we are retreating to a handful of fonts.

And before you point it out, yes, I’ve used Georgia as the font for this blog. I just like it, but maybe that’s the reason – it’s just really really good. In which case, hats off to Matthew Carter, who invented it (along with loads of other fonts.)

Here’s a quick rundown (not comprehensive) of who is using which font:

Georgia (for headlines at least):
– Guardian
– Independent
– FT
– The Times
– Telegraph
– Wall Street Journal
– International Herald Tribune
– NYTimes
– LA Times
– Washington Post
– New Statesman
– Time – Georgia and Arial mixed

Arial:
– Daily Mail
– USA Today
– The Onion
– Reuters and Bloomberg use Arial in their sites (Bloomberg uses a Georgia derivative in its terminals)

Economist uses Verdana. Good for the Economist. A bit different.

The lazy journalism of citing Facebook and Twitter

I’m getting very annoyed with the phrase “such as…” in journalism. It’s becoming a lazy substitute for not having concrete facts, and is used especially to write about websites and  social networks where the writer usually has no idea what they are talking about.

In other words, the phrase “such as Facebook and Twitter” really means “something’s going on online and it must be going on on Facebook and Twitter so just say that as that’s the only new thingy we’ve heard of in the newsroom”.

Some examples:

From the Telegraph: “Teachers believe social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter are to blame for pupils’ poor grades, a study has concluded.”

From the FT (see, I’m not biased): “Banks are searching out fresh ways to engage with customers on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter as they look to capitalise on the growing popularity of these mediums…”

I thought the other day – if I had a pound for every time I saw that written… So I googled it. Over 9 million instances of that exact phrase. And then I got curious. What about the other combinations. LinkedIn and, say, Orkut? Why should Facebook and Twitter be the only show in town?

So here’s the grid:

Source: Google results for exact phrase “such as x and y”. Here’s the data.

I’ve given anything over a million a red background, 100,000 – 1m in yellow, under 100,000 white, and put grey on anything less than 10.

So Facebook and Twitter is the killer combo, although MySpace does well with Facebook. But look at the rest – it’s a joke. It’s not as if they have that magnitude of users less than Twitter – or even Facebook.

But the real joke is that Twitter and Facebook are so radically different. To lump them together that often in a lazy format is ridiculous. The network effect of journalists is not far removed from the network effect of social networks, or software, or other monopolistic services. Once everyone starts to say “such as Facebook and Twitter”, there isn’t much point in bucking the trend.

 

© 2017 Rob Minto

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑