Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

Category: Media (page 1 of 2)

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.

Sport Geek #64: The goalkeeper and the three bullies

Football pundits, eh? Say what you like about them… actually, you can’t.

Not if you are a struggling goalkeeper at Liverpool. Loris Karius has overstepped the mark, it seems, in defending himself – rather than his goal – against Gary Neville.

Stay with me on this one. It’s a he said, Neville-said story. Continue reading

Squawka podcast: Sports Geek interview

Check out the latest Squawka podcast via audioboom. Worth a full listen, but I’m on around 28 minutes in.

INFO:

Ozil? De Bruyne? Coutinho? Eriksen? The level of playmakers in England’s top division has skyrocketed over the past few seasons and Nic English is joined by Muhammad Butt, Squawka Dave and James McManus to discuss exactly who is top dog.

There’s also time for a very special interview with Rob Minto – author of Sports Geek – to discuss some of the myths in sport and why he’s on a mission to debunk them.

Who didn’t get the memo about Flo Jo?

Uncanny timing laced with irony. A few weeks ago, as Maria Sharapova was ditched by various sponsors for taking a banned performance-enhancing drug, various adverts appeared from Chinese electronics giant Huawei featuring no less than Florence Griffith Joiner.

Yes, Flo Jo. Still the women’s 100m and 200m record holder, who died nearly 20 years ago, and for whom drug taking was never proven, but is widely accepted. The ads are still running in places such as the FT,  Wall St Journal, CNN and the Economist.

There’s some very tenuous blurb to draw a link between Flo Jo’s running philosophy and Huawei. Here’s how it goes:

Florence Griffith Joyner – smiling as she crosses the finish line. She set the women’s world record for the fastest 100-meter dash nearly thirty years ago, a record that hasn’t been broken since. The 100-meter dash only lasts for about 10 seconds. Joyner once said that runners mentally split each second into 100 units, exerting a massive amount of effort to increase their speed by one tiny unit at a time. An improvement of 0.01, although seemingly small, is a huge accomplishment.Huawei’s people have persevered through decades of hard work, relentlessly pursuing the technological breakthroughs that will usher in our future information society.

Combined with this useless copy is possibly the weirdest picture of Flo Jo that you could create. It looks like a 6-year-old was given free rein with Microsoft Paint, rather than anything a professional designer could come up with.

Flo Jo, in a picture that never happened.

While the Chinese have a history of drug-taking athletes, especially in swimming, one of their biggest companies can’t actually want to be associated with this kind of reputation, can it? Flo Jo is one of the stupidest choices you can imagine. There are plenty of clean athletes that Huawei could have picked. Flo Jo is still the record holder, but that’s NOT a good recommendation. Most of the women’s world records from 1988 – the year before out of competition testing started – are tainted.

Wasn’t there a meeting? Didn’t someone do a quick Google search and point out the rumours? Didn’t someone say “drugs”?

You might think so, given that in on version of the campaign, readers can leave comments. Aside from some racist crap, one commenter said:

FGJ is not such a good icon for your campaign, she was not making her world record on bread and peanutbutter alone….

Another put it more succinctly:

Didn’t. Flo jo die at 38 after a lifetime abusing performance enhancing drugs?

Quite. This is possibly the worst campaign you could come up with. Every element is bad. Perhaps Maria Sharapova should give Huawei a call.

When it comes to FA Cup upsets, size is subjective

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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

The royal baby: is the US that interested?

Any piece about the interest around the world in the new royal baby, now named as George, invariably asks why the US cares so much about the UK royal family.

But if web searching is any guide, the US is way less interested than we think. Google trends regional results for the search term “royal baby” show that the US is down in 8th place, behind Italy, for relative search volumes in the last week.

The UK is top, as you would expect. But the rest of that top ten I would not have guessed. Some of the Commonwealth countries (Australia, Canada) – maybe. But Ireland, Singapore and Switzerland in the top 10? Nah.

Here’s the chart:

Top regions for “royal baby”  Search volume
United Kingdom 100
New Zealand 68
Ireland 64
Canada 61
Australia 55
South Africa 50
Italy 46
United States 44
Singapore 18
Switzerland 16

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.

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.

When monochrome should rule

I was in a deli near work yesterday, and used my debit card to make the purchase. So far, so ordinary. But then something caught my eye. The payment machine was new, shiny, and had a colour screen.

Now that may not seem like a big deal, but what is the demand for colour screens in a device like this? Let’s think about a card payment machine.

– It doesn’t belong to anyone (unless the business owner also runs the till)
– There is no experiential upside – you don’t stop using it because of the interface
– It’s not a “loved” device, like a phone, mp3 player or tablet
– You enter a price (till operator) or a Pin (customer) – that’s it

So why the hell does that need a colour screen?

Is this the end of the monochrome world? Happily not. There are still a lot of basic screens around, in stereos, on the phone in front of me (a Cisco IP phone), on bus stops. There’s a lot of virtue in keeping things this way – these devices convey simple information and have no need of the advantages that colour screens can bring. But I wouldn’t be surprised if they start to change in the next round of upgrades – the march to colour screens feels inevitable.

However, there is one device that seems to be resolutely black and white: the Kindle (and obviously, it’s imitators). I don’t have one, but I like the fact that it started in black and white, and is staying that way. It has a certain old-school charm to it. Plus of course it helps hugely with battery life, which isn’t a concern for the things I mentioned earlier (desk phones, stereos etc).

Amazon don’t release Kindle sales figures, but they are clearly in the millions. This seems to me to be the last non-colour big product release.

And although reading text has a certain logic of staying black and white, television, you would think, has left that all far far behind.

Except according to BBC figures (p22) there are 24,000 black and white TV licences registered in 2009 – from over 200,000 only 10 years ago. It’s an astonishing decline, although I suspect it will be a long tail that could drift for years.

So who are the B&W TV holdouts? I can only think of one group of people for whom it makes sense: the blind. You can get 50 per cent off the licence anyway if you are blind, but half of the full price – £72 or so – is a lot more that £24, which is the half price for the B&W licence.

Except… try buying a black and white TV. I’m sure it’s do-able, but it’s not easy. Currys don’t sell them. Nor do Argos.

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