For Remembrance Day we honoured the fallen by geolocating and mapping their home addresses and turning it into a scrollytelling experience telling their stories.
We also included a map our readers can explore and a searchable table as well as a map of where they were laid to rest for any of our readers who wished to pay their respects.
There were a number of side stories going into more depth on the tragic stories we uncovered in the dataset.
It is now three months since this piece was published and we still regularly receive emails from family members thanking us and sharing the stories of their family members with us. We’ve gone on to publish follow up articles based on these including one where a family member provided us with copies of letters their fallen family member had sent during the war.
We’ve also had correspondence with people in the education sector – inlcuding one teacher who works on a Ministry of Defense campus and sought our permission to use the piece as part of her curriculum.
We are a very new data team (only formed in March 2021) and we have also found that this piece has had a significant impact internally in being more creative with use of data.
Poppy Scotland, the official Scottish Remembrance charity had the following:
“This map is a powerful reminder of how every single community has been impacted by the cost of conflict over the past 100 years. Each poppy symbolises the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought and died in defence of our nation.
The original data was sent to us in excel format but as it was hand transcribed data based on records that were a hundred years old it required a lot of cleaning. For this stage we utilised Open Refine to cluster and clean the most common misspellings.
To geolocate the data we used a Google Apps Script pinging off the google map API. As a relatively small newsroom we generally try to do as much for free as possible so this was geocoded ion batches of 1,500 per day (the free limit).
Due to the age of the address data we then had to sift through the data for streets that no longer exist.
The original design idea behind the project was based on an offhanded comment that from afar it would look like ‘a field of poppies’. The poppy icon was designed in figma and it was designed to have similarities between the Scottish and Canadian official poppy icons to honour the many Scottish men that served in the Canadian military. The stalk of the poppy was a deliberate choice to add on to the ‘field of poppies’ aesthetic.
What was the hardest part of this project?
We have a motto in our data team – “NYT dreams on a DCT budget” and this project is the epitome of that.
Between our titles we had more than 11,000 records to clean and geolocate and as stated previously we tend to try to avoid having to pay for resources where possible so the addresses were located in chunks of 500 per day (per data team member – so 1,500 per day).
As a small data team that also provides a service to the rest of the newsroom to create charts for their stories, it was often difficult to allocate the time required for manual scrutiny of the data, but when we did we found ourselves sharing fascinating story after fascinating story.
As a group of millennials we had never felt andy particular connection to the tragedy of WW1 but trawling through this data and ouring our hearts and souls into creating something that would truly honour them has brought that connection to us – and we hope that connection is felt in our readers in our presentation of the data.
What can others learn from this project?
Data journalism is not just about news. Every now and then it’s good to take modern data visualisation and journalism principles and apply them to a more feature based project.