Newspaper websites shine with online campaign graphics

Every election cycle inspires innovation at newspaper websites. This year, leading U.S. newspapers are offering some stunning online graphic tools to help their readers get an overview of the many elements of the campaign, at a glance.

One appropriate place to begin in following the 2008 presidential election campaign is to survey the existing balance of power between the nation’s top two political parties. Congressional Quarterly’s Election Map, on gives readers the option to see the publication’s projected Democrat vs. Republican breakdown for U.S. House and Senate seats, as well as for governors and the state-by-state results for the 2004 Presidential election. Clicking on each district launches a new browser window detailing demographic information about the district, and its recent election history.

The marquee race in 2008 is, obviously, the campaign to replace George W. Bush as U.S. President. The New York Times offers separate pages laying out the Democratic and Republican primary schedules, but the Los Angeles Times offers a superior Primary Tracker that combines all the information in the NY Times’ graphics, but in one easy-to-navigate page.

LAT graphic

The LA Times’ graphic includes both a timeline of primary schedules for both parties, as well as a U.S. map that accesses state-by-state details. Instead of placing bullet points for each state’s primary election on the appropriate date of the timeline, the LA Times weighs the data points, placing larger circle in place of points for the primaries in larger states. That allows readers to understand the impact of shared primary dates like February’s “Super Tuesday” at a quick glance, instantly rewarding the reader for his or her attention to the graphic and, I suspect, enticing many of them to click around and discover what other information lies within.

Contrast the LA Times’ thoughtful effort with Politico’s Follow the Campaign Trail, which serves up a cartoon of a U.S. map, and nothing else to engage the reader on first glance. Click on each state, and you’re served a list of “coming events” that include many already months past. Silliness does not trump substance, in this case.

My only quibble with the LA Times’ effort is that one must click on the various states to see information about their upcoming elections in the detail box, instead of merely mousing over the state. But otherwise, the LA Times’ feature provides a powerful example of how an online graphic can pack more information into a smaller space than can a print graphic, while assisting, rather than impairing, reader comprehension.

The NY Times shines, however, with its compelling page tracking Presidential campaign finances. The initial page underwhelms, but click on a candidate’s name, and one finds a rich geographic overview of the candidate’s financial support. Look toward the bottom of the page, and you’ll find a timeline that illustrates how that candidate’s contributions have fluctuated over the campaign’s course.

NYT graphic

Another nice touch: Click to see the details on one candidate, then select another, and you do not return to the overview, but instead go to the detail page for that other candidate. That makes navigating through candidate-by-candidate comparisons a breeze.

Finally, to see where each candidate will be each day of the campaign, click to the Washington Post’s outstanding Campaign Tracker. The Post’s page blends a custom Google Map with a traditional list of candidate appearances. Click a candidate’s name, and you will find a weekly schedule, with mapped to another Google Map, as well as an analysis of where the candidate is spending the most time… and raising the most money.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at