War in Ukraine: When Russian artillery falls silent

Entry type: Single project

Country/area: Germany

Publishing organisation: Süddeutsche Zeitung

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2022-08-08

Language: German

Authors: Sebastian Gierke, Markus Hametner, Sören Müller-Hansen, Jonas Jetzig


Süddeutsche Zeitung’s Data Team is a standalone unit of the newsroom established in 2018, with a focus on data-driven reporting across all topics. The team works closely with specialist editors, graphic designers, and developers to achieve the best result for readers. The team’s goal is to tell stories, explain complex issues, and expose injustice and corruption. They are committed to constantly learning, experimenting with new tools, sources, and storytelling formats. They strive to be transparent with their methodology, source code and raw data, and to provide the best possible experience for Süddeutsche Zeitung readers.

Project description:

This article from Süddeutsche Zeitung, published in August 2022, uses satellite data from NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) to analyze the intensity of Russian artillery attacks in the ongoing war in Ukraine. The data shows that the intensity of attacks has decreased in recent weeks and that Russian forces have even lost ground in the south. The article also raises questions about whether the Russian army is capable of continuing their offensive and what the satellite data can reveal about the situation on the front.

Impact reached:

The project from Sueddeutsche Zeitung on the war in Ukraine has had a significant impact on the audience and community. By using satellite data from NASA, the article was able to show that Russian attacks in the Donbass have decreased in intensity, providing a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the situation. This unique approach in data journalism has helped to educate the public on the potential uses of satellite data in conflict reporting and has received praise from many journalists for its in-depth analysis. The project has been able to provide a more accurate picture of the situation, rather than relying on emotive language and sensationalism, and has helped to inform the public about the complexity of the issue. Overall, the project has made a difference by providing a new perspective on the war in Ukraine and has helped to raise awareness and understanding of the conflict.

Techniques/technologies used:

The project used various tools, techniques and technologies to analyze and present the data. Firstly, we used satellite data from NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) to map the intensity of the artillery attacks in the war in Ukraine. The data was then cleaned and analyzed in R, a programming language commonly used for data analysis and visualization. Additionally, we also used GIS software to create maps and visualizations of the data. These tools and techniques were used to provide a comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground and to present this information in a clear and concise manner to our audience. The use of satellite data and data analysis in R allowed us to provide a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the war in Ukraine than would have been possible with traditional reporting methods alone.

Context about the project:

One of the key aspects of the project is the use of simple, publicly available, open source data to provide a detailed and nuanced understanding of the complex Russian invasion in Ukraine. It’s worth mentioning that the main objective of this article is to show that with publicly available and open source data it is possible to create a simple but powerful visual representation of a complex subject such as a war. The twitter thread https://twitter.com/marius_saeltzer/status/1556993329857961985 praised the article’s dataviz for its ability to clearly tell a story, its dimensional reduction, and its intuitive scales, comparing it to what Edward Tufte called the greatest graphic ever. The context of the project is important for understanding the challenges and considerations that went into the creation of the article.

What can other journalists learn from this project?

Other journalists can learn from this project that simple, publicly available, open source data can be used to explain complex issues like war and invasion. The use of data visualization can also be an effective way to communicate the information to the audience. The article uses the data from Nasa’s Fire Information for Resource Management System to present the intensity of the Russian artillery’s impact on the cities and towns in the war-affected areas of Ukraine. The data was analyzed and cleaned in R, and the final visualization was able to provide a detailed and nuanced understanding of the situation in Ukraine. The project also highlights the importance of dimensional reduction, intuitive scales, and focus on comparison to make the data easily understandable.

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