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NEWS STREAM, by Manuel Reitz

Visualizing seven news topics that were ever-present in Germany, in 2013

December 5, 2014

[This is a guest post by Manuel Reitz*, about his visualization project “NEWS STREAM”]



Conflicts, elections and politics, sports and weather, the public focus is constantly changing. Hardly any topic gets enduring attention and new headlines dominate the media everyday. But how long does public interest last? How are different topics perceived and are there any recognizable coherences?

Exemplarily, NEWS STREAM tries to show the development of seven news topics that were ever-present in Germany in 2013. Using the archive of Spiegel Online – one of Germany’s most-read news pages – every article on each topic gets registered. The impact of each article is visualized by bringing in the number of comments and Facebook-likes. In addition to, headlines of the five most commented and liked articles are listed below and serve as an orientation.

This work was created during the seminar «Digital Society» at Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel, Germany, supervised by Prof. Tom Duscher.

(NEWS STREAM – the completed posters | Manuel Reitz)

The starting point of my work was the assumption that after the tremendous outrage caused by the global surveillance disclosures only a short period of time passed until nobody cared about this topic anymore. It seems as there was less interest than I expected in a topic that effects everyone. From this consideration, I formed the concept to use data from social media to show how people react to news topics.

I started collecting data with a little Processing application which browsed through the archive of Spiegel Online and collected all articles with their meta data e.g. publishing date, number of comments and Facebook-likes.

(NEWS STREAM – search results on Spiegel Online | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – Processing application searching for every NSA related article | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – table with articles and their meta data | Manuel Reitz)

Then I went on to visualize this long list of articles, every article became a dot on a time line. I drew a filled circle around it representing the Facebook-likes and concentric circles for the comments. The radius depends on the particular count so you can see which articles have a bigger impact. When there are several articles with big impact in a short period, the circles start to overlap and this part gets darker. This is so you see these points at first sight. The whole visualization was done with Processing, too.

(NEWS STREAM – one dot per article | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – filled circles representing Facebook-likes | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – concentric circles for comments | Manuel Reitz)

After finishing the visualization of the NSA topic I noticed that there needs to be a comparison. With this graphic you get a chronological overview – but you are unable to quantify it. Consequently, I visualized six other important topics, too. Now you get a quantitative comparison and it becomes clear that the NSA actually had the biggest impact – at least for a while. In addition to this you are able to see connections in the development of different topics. For example, there is a clear link in the course of reporting about the NSA and the parliamentary elections for the Bundestag in Germany in September. The peek in the election graphic fits perfectly into the empty space of the NSA graphic. So it can be concluded that both, reports and interest of the people, completely switched for the period of the election.

With this in mind I created an additional graphic that shows exactly this in a condensed form. This was published in the Spiegel Online 20th anniversary report on history and development of Online Journalism.

(NEWS STREAM – condensed form | Manuel Reitz)

In retrospect, I think the posters work quite well in terms of showing a large amount of data. There are some advantages of presenting on paper like the almost unlimited amount of space and the high resolution and related quality of the presentation. But there are also disadvantages: especially with news it is most important to be up to date. Reporting on different topics continues and is not completed at the end of the year, therefore a digital interactive presentation might be necessary.

I am currently working on my Bachelor thesis which is based on my NEWS STREAM project. It will continue the idea of using social media data to show peoples reactions to news, this time in form of a dynamic and interactive data visualization. The focus will shift to a live aspect instead of a chronological review. So stay tuned…

(NEWS STREAM – completed posters | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – completed posters | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – completed posters | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – completed posters | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – headlines of the five most commented and liked articles | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – explanation and key | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – more details | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – more details | Manuel Reitz)
(NEWS STREAM – more details | Manuel Reitz)


*Manuel Reitz is a communication designer and student based in Kiel, Germany. He is currently working on his Bachelor thesis at Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design, Kiel. You can find more of his works on Behance.

Written by Tiago Veloso

Tiago Veloso is the founder and editor of Visualoop and Visualoop Brasil . He is Portuguese, currently based in Bonito, Brazil.