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Visual Network Exploration for Data Journalists

Tommaso Venturini, Mathieu Jacomy, Liliana Bounegru, Jonathan Gray

Networks are classic but under-acknowledged figures of journalistic storytelling. Who is connected to whom and by which means? Which organizations receive support from which others? What resources or information circulate through which channels and which intermediaries enable and regulate their flows? These are all customary stories and lines of inquiry in journalism and they all have to do with networks. Additionally, the recent spread of digital media has increasingly confronted journalists with information coming not only in the traditional form of statistic tables, but also of relational databases. Yet, journalists have so far made little use of the analytical resources offered by networks. To address this problem in this chapter we examine how " visual network exploration " may be brought to bear in the context of data journalism in order to explore, narrate and make sense of large and complex relational datasets. We borrow the more familiar vocabulary of geographical maps to show how key graphical variables such as position, size and hue can be used to interpret and characterise graph structures and properties. We illustrate this technique by taking as a starting point a recent example from journalism, namely a catalogue of French information sources compiled by Le Monde's The Decodex. We establish that good visual exploration of networks is an iterative process where practices to demarcate categories and territories are entangled and mutually constitutive. To enrich investigation we suggest ways in which the insights of the visual exploration of networks can be supplemented with simple calculations and statistics of distributions of nodes and links across the network. We conclude with reflection on the knowledge-making capacities of this technique and how these compare to the insights and instruments that journalists have used in the Decodex project – suggesting that visual network exploration is a fertile area for further exploration and collaborations between data journalists and digital researchers.