Sizing up Australia’s bushfires

Country/area: Singapore

Organisation: Reuters

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 9 Jan 2020

Credit: Manas Sharma, Simon Scarr, Marco Hernandez

Project description:

The Australia bushfires razed more than 10.3 million hectares (103,000 sq km) of land – an area the size of South Korea. Reuters produced a novel storytelling graphic to depict and contextualize just how large this area actually is and give readers a true sense of scale for the fires.

Impact reached:

Nearly every Australian summer, the country’s landscape is engulfed in bushfires. But the scale of how big these fires are rarely truly shown. Coverage can sometimes be skewed towards California’s perennial problem, which receives a lot of attention. We were able to bring the issue to mainstream attention and show, purely based on size, Australia’s problem dwarfs that of California’s.

This project was shared widely on social media and received high readership on Reuters platforms.

The novel format of stacked scrolling squares has since been replicated by other news organisations covering fires.

Techniques/technologies used:

We used Ai2html, an illustrator plug-in to create this graphic. The script enabled us to embed these rows of blocks to illustrate the size. We used javascript to build the ticker on the top of the graphic that helped contextualise the size of these fires as you scrolled through the page. 

What was the hardest part of this project?

The length of the graphic initially was unwieldy, but it was really worth the work. It adds context to the size of these fires. Grounding the size in terms of a football field gives a reader a sense of the actual size. The added element of showing the area of small countries truly shows the scale of the fires are.

What can others learn from this project?

Scale is often a good way to introduce the magnitude of a story. When describing an area, it is hard to actually show the area affected, but a relatable metric can situate the audience about how gargantuan these bushfires were. The strength of the story is its simplicity and it didn’t rely on any new fangled ideas to tell it.

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