Here is where the election played out (and where it didn’t)

Country/area: Canada

Organisation: Radio-Canada

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 21/9/2021

Credit: Nael Shiab, Melanie Julien, Francis Lamontagne, Mathieu St-Laurent, Martine Roy

Biography: Nael Shiab is a data journalist for CBC/Radio-Canada. He specializes in the analysis of large volumes of data and 3D interactive data visualizations.

Project description:

The results of Canadian general elections are usually available during the night. We decided to create a unique 3D project to explain the results to our readers who would check the news in the morning.

Impact reached:

Many readers wrote to us saying how much they enjoyed their experience. It’s difficult to propose something different than usual for topics that keep recurring. Some expectations need to be fulfilled, especially for events of importance like elections. For these projects, the space to innovate is narrow. But based on the readers’ feedback, we succeeded in presenting electoral results on a map in a new and engaging manner with this project.

Techniques/technologies used:

To analyze the electoral results, I coded a R notebook. For the 3D map, I used the JavaScript library ThreeJS.

What was the hardest part of this project?

First, I needed to code as much as possible in advance in a general and flexible manner to focus on content and writing during election night. And it is always a challenge to do so because you don’t know what the results will be! For example, I coded an R notebook in advance with fake data. I was able to run this notebook during the night with actual results to guide me through my writing. Performance-wise, there were many considerations for the data visualization. We knew that most of our readers would read the story on their mobile phones after waking up. For older phones with weaker graphic cards, I disabled some options (shadows, for example) to ensure the best performance. On the design and content side, transforming the geographical data of electoral districts into 3D polygons in JavaScript and finding ways for the readers to interact with them were also interesting challenges. Lastly, election night was a very long work day (from 3 pm to 7 am the following day). But it was necessary to publish this innovative project before the readers started their day.

What can others learn from this project?

In many countries, some electoral districts are huge while others are very small. I scale them to the same size in this project to count how many were won by each party. I think it’s an interesting approach, a little bit similar to cartograms, that could inspire other reporters. I’ll be revisiting this approach for sure for the next electoral cycle. I also hope this project will inspire other developers and journalists to play with 3D data visualizations. With JavaScript libraries like ThreeJS, it’s possible to create very engaging experiences for the readers, even in augmented and virtual reality. Many rules need to be written for 3D data visualization since it’s an emerging field, but it’s imperative to experiment. A big part of our digital lives will be in 3D in the near future, and journalism needs to be ready for it.

Project links: