South China Morning Post’s Covid-19: our explanatory graphics collection
Country/area: Hong Kong S.A.R., China
Organisation: South China Morning Post
Organisation size: Big
The South China Morning Post is a fortunate rarity in modern journalism. In the past, news publications used to produce plenty of illustrated explanatory infographics, but in the last two decades, their graphics desks have shifted to favor data visualizations instead. Not the SCMP; it’s talented and diverse graphics team is able to deliver excellent results in both traditional illustrated, narrative infographics as in modern data visualizations. They are an example to inspire future generations of data and graphics journalists.
In the space of 10 years the South China Morning Post’s infographic desk has gone from two designers to the current team of seven visual journalists. The team has grown from researching, writing and designing standalone visual stories for print, to driving the Post’s whirlwind transition from local newspaper to world-class digital news media organisation.
The team’s exuberant, idiosyncratic and distinctive style has proven popular with readers. This might be best reflected by “Coronavirus: the disease Covid-19 explained”, the SCMP’s most-read story of 2020 and “The World of Languages” from 2015, which remains one of the Post’s all time best-read stories.
Using a combination of traditional illustration and innovative design, the team is always on the lookout for new ways to express themselves and to telegraph ideas to readers. They use each new project as a fresh opportunity to experiment and evolve – their joyful creativity is clear for all to see.
Past and present members of the team form a veritable who’s who in the infographics world. This can be attested to by the revolving door of talent recruited from SCMP for influential positions at such world-leading corporations as National Geographic, Bloomberg and Reuters, as well as the numerous awards ceremonies and international conferences to which the current team is invited to address.
Description of portfolio:
The first project in the collection was published on 21 January with the most recent on 28 September, 2020. Our first coronavirus data visualisation alerted the international community to the significance of an obscure disease from faraway Wuhan, China. Published within 24 hours of confirmation that the virus could be transmitted human-to-human we focused on the source of the outbreak and explained why Covid-19 would inevitably become a major worldwide health crisis. As the coronavirus grew from outbreak to epidemic and then to pandemic, we housed our growing library of visual explanatory stories in a single portfolio.
The SCMP was the first major news organisation to take Covid-19 seriously. Uneasy memories of SARS from 2003 were still fresh in the memories of Hongkongers which impelled us to publish “Wuhan virus: a visual explainer” before Covid-19 had been named and while the official toll consisted of just 291 infections and two deaths.
With much of the international media playing catch-up, readers turned to the SCMP to unravel the then mysterious coronavirus which propelled “Covid-19 explained” into SCMP’s most-read story of 2020. https://multimedia.scmp.com/infographics/news/china/article/3047038/wuhan-virus/old/21january.html We updated the story to “Coronavirus: the disease Covid-19 explained” as the coronavirus spread exponentially and included the first real-time tally of global infections and deaths. The code for the toll was used by many international publications on their own sites, gaining SCMP millions of additional clicks.
Adobe illustrator, Adobe XD, Adobe Photoshop, Sketch, Brackets, Adobe Fresco, Procreate, Java Script, HTML5, CSS3, Jquery, Internal library, Node JS, LoopbackJS, MomentJS, QGIS, Google Spreadsheet, paper and pencil were used.
Data and information from Chinese authorities were collected on a Google Spreadsheet. Data from sources such as Johns Hopkins University, CDC, WHO, was scraped using NodeJs and stored in JSON files in our database before the JSON files were displayed using HTML. We also used vector diagrams, illustrations, video, photos and maps created with QGIS, which were exported as SVGs. Mockup and layouts were done with Adobe XD, Sketch BV; and paper and pencil.
When the coronavirus first broke out there was little consistency in how the international community counted infections and deaths. Many countries failed to include asymptomatic cases and others did not include victims who died from related causes. Some countries simply manipulated the case numbers. Collecting information from Chinese authorities is always difficult, with local and central authorities citing conflicting figures. As Johns Hopkins University emerged as the most reliable source, the 12-hour lag between Asia and America meant it was important for SCMP to independently source the numbers for Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and China to keep the numbers fresh. This made it difficult to create automatic data feeds and meant pivoting on the fly by updating the number manually throughout the day and night.
We have a small team of six visual journalists and one engineer dedicated to visual stories, so in order to keep on top of the constantly changing news we published regular updates and renosed stories so they could evolve as fresh information came to light. The distribution of tasks, such as the production of assets, development of the online site, sketches, ideas, research, writing and editing was shared among the team. This way we were able to meet deadlines and keep developing stories while working across multiple projects and looking for new ways to report the pandemic.