Good graphics give easy access to complex data
By Stephen J. Downes
When I was in high school, I had a summer job at the pineapple cannery in Iwilei.
I worked with thousands of other teenagers who filled the Dole and Del Monte factories, working 10-hour, peak-season days and nights to process and can millions of dollars' worth of fruit.
Then I went to the Mainland. When I returned, 10 years later, the canneries were gone, along with a good chunk of Hawai'i's pineapple-canning industry. My first question was: When did THIS happen?
This chart is just one of the hundreds of informational charts, diagrams, illustrations and maps produced by The Advertiser's graphics department each year. Their purpose is to take raw information in this case, 20 years of sales-value figures and convert it into a clear, easy-to-understand picture. Of course, this chart doesn't tell you the whole story: Why the industry declined, where the jobs went, who paid the price. Still, in 3 inches, it says a lot.
We do publish graphics that are larger. When salvage crews set out to recover the Japanese fisheries training ship Ehime Maru, graphic artist Martha Hernandez filled two full pages with drawings and diagrams that showed how the sunken vessel would be raised and the bodies recovered from within.
Illustrations like this can take you where a photographer can't go (2,000 feet under water), and can show you a process that would be difficult to describe. It can make the news easier to understand. Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words. And sometimes it can be worth a lot less.
Here's the first pineapple graphic, with some modifications:
The data haven't changed. The data aren't wrong. There's simply less, and by eliminating the data from before 1992, you're left with a far different picture of the decline of canned pineapple in Hawai'i.
Is the chart wrong? No. Is it misleading? Yes.
We work hard to keep our graphics of the highest quality. But given the nature of the work converting complex information from many different sources into clean, easy-to-understand visual images it's inevitable that errors will creep in.
Sometimes they show up in graphics we produce ourselves. Sometimes they come in graphics we use from news services, including The Associated Press and the Gannett Graphics Network.
But wherever it came from, if we publish it, we're responsible for it.
So if you spot an error in one of our graphics, please let us know.
Stephen J. Downes is assistant managing editor for graphics. Reach him at email@example.com or 525-8066.