When the Diamond Princess was quarantined in February last year it had the largest Covid-19 outbreak of any location outside China.
In a long read for The Sunday Times Magazine we took readers aboard the cruise, piecing together what happened through interviews with passengers and members of the crew.
Bespoke graphics add context to the story, showing the internal workings of the ship, its detailed deck plan and the exact route it followed from Singapore to its final docking in Yokohama.
The story performed brilliantly online, with the highest engagement score of any article published in the magazine the weekend it was published and an average read time of nearly six minutes across 22k unique visitors.
Readers loved our deep dive into the bowels of the ship: “Great article, fascinating snapshot.” “Best Article I’ve read in month’s, gripping, informative and factual”.
Detailed geolocation information was obtained from the ship tracking and global maritime intelligence company MariTrace to illustrate the exact route taken by the cruise ship. This enabled us to track it from Singapore — where it set sail on January 6 — to Yokohama where it docked on February 3.
The data came in a JSON format. We converted data into CSV files, then processed (translate easting/northing into latitude/longitude) and visualised them in QGIS. We annotated our final maps in Illustrator.
To give more context to our readers, we also mapped the location of all other cruises around the world that had registered Covid-19 cases at the same time the Diamond Princess was docked in Yokohama. This involved matching each vessel’s name to its International Maritime Organization number (the data was again provided by MariTrace) and then manually extracting the geolocation coordinates on the day the Diamond Princess was docked. A map was created using Datawrapper before being annotated in Illustrator.
We illustrated the official deck plan of the ship, allowing readers to understand the actual size of the cruise liner but also helping them visualise some of the smallest rooms passengers were forced to quarantine in.
Finally, a bespoke timeline was put together to contextualise how the drama on board the Diamond Princess unfolded in the frame of an evolving global pandemic.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The hardest part of this project was to find the best way to bring the story to life for our digital readers. Katie Glass’s words were already really powerful and deserved the strongest bespoke visual package to run with online.
The first crucial point we discussed was how to visualise the ship’s route. On the one hand we wanted to be as accurate as possible. This is why we got in touch with the company MariTrace to get hourly positions of the cruise. On the other hand, we wanted to create a strong visual map that brightened up the data, keeping our readers both interested and informed. We had to find the right balance between data and illustration, between detail and clarity.
It was a really interesting and thoughtful creative process that involved different expertises coming together, a great example of collaboration across the newsroom.
What can others learn from this project?
Data is a powerful tool to provide context to your story and to highlight potential constructive angles: bespoke visuals can truly help bring it to life
Data can help identify a story, but a combination with on the ground reporting remains very important.
Don’t rely on one single software to create your visuals: sometimes you’ll need a mix of tools to obtain the best results (in our case it was QGIS, Datawrapper and Illustrator)