Using tables in stories

Flash, Java, Widgets, oh my!
We see news organizations using these formats over and over to help tell stories. In some cases, a plain HTML table will do the trick, like in Terry Pluto’s column for the Cleveland Plain Dealer about the terrible season the Cavs are having.

Take a look at this example and then in the comments field of this post, write a short response that includes a link to another news story that effectively used a basic HTML or text table as a visual aid.

Cleveland Cavaliers team stats 2010-11

Answer these questions:

  1. What kind of a story was it?
  2. How did a table of data add to your understanding of the story?
  3. Where did the data come from?
  4. What might you have done differently?

Your post is due by 11:59 p.m. Wednesday night.

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About danfriedell

I'm a sports writer, editor, adjunct professor, mystery book lover, Cleveland native and a softball player. More about me can be found at www.danfriedell.com
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10 Responses to Using tables in stories

  1. Devin Miller says:

    A USA Today article titled, “Wis. town reflects challenge for middle class rebound” uses a table to display the national unemployment rates and numbers of jobs created. The story takes a hard news topic, unemployment, and focuses it on a specific town, Manitowoc, Wis.
    By incorporating the table in story, USA Today gives readers additional numeric information on the story. The table quantifies the story and works as evidence that supports the statements made in the article. It would be extremely ineffective to use all of the numbers in the article itself. By organizing the data into a table, it makes it easier for readers to ingest the numbers and understand their values. Data used in the table came from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
    If I were creating the table, I would try to shorten the length of the table. It requires several scrolls to get through the entire table, and I believe the impact of the numbers would have more strength if the data was displayed in two columns instead of one long column. I would break up the columns into “Unemployment rate” and “Jobs created or lost.”

  2. Kirby Mills says:

    Jeff Passan, columnist for Yahoo! Sports, wrote an article about Jim Leyland, manager of the Detroit Tigers, and his son, Pat, a minor league player in the same organization, and how father and son will be in the same spring training camp. The article focused solely on the relationship between father and son and the emotional bond of this experience.

    In the sidebar, Passan added 2 simple table grids that told their own little supporting story. One table told the viewers about other Major League Baseball managers who have a son in their own organization. The table has the manager’s name, the son’s name, and the son’s position. The second table took a different view and explained the MLB managers who have a son who plays for another organization. The elements were the same as the first table plus a column for the son’s organization.

    These two tables were very simple and told a unique side that was not covered in the story. However, because this topic has such an emotional family appeal, I would have made the tables much more prominent to show readers that the Leyland’s situation is not the only one out there. Because of how advertizing and widgets are generally set in stone for web-only stories, it would be difficult to maneuver these tables with little effort. Although, I think with a little change in the location and structure of the tables, they would serve much more value in supporting the story.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news;_ylt=Aom9WujanFy0P_6n2jgWxnE8R9MF?slug=jp-leylands021311

  3. evelynroyer says:

    The gaming magazine Gamesauce recently ran an article called “Dedicated to Game Dialogue,” written by video game dialogue critic, Richard Rabil. In it, Rabil illustrates the bad-script-trauma that fueled his site, dialoguejunkie.com, where gamers, designers, vent-ers, anyone can watch and rate game clips based on script quality.

    To illustrate, a simple value-added block compiles some of the worst offenders in the industry: “woman with insomnia: ‘A hot shower! That’ll create the magic of sleep!'” And, “yeah, yeah, yeah, and Santa Claus shot J.F.K.” Simple yet effective, the block organizes data that could have bogged down the text and makes it pop for easy web reading.

    The block contained five examples of dialogue from recent video games like “Bayonetta,” “Resident Evil” and “Heavy Rain.” What I found interesting was the table was in line with the story; it wasn’t off to the side or a half-hearted insert with text flowing around it. I had to read it, it was like a roadblock, but examples of crappy work are the best part and it enhanced the point Rabil was making. If I had to do it different, I would probably have picked a different background color and changed the toothpaste green to a demure grey.

  4. Danielle says:

    “Nasa Launches Search for Moon Trees” is a USA Today story by Elizabeth Weise about how NASA is trying to track down outer space visitors now planted on Earth. The mixed tree seeds traveled aboard Apollo 14 back in 1971 so that scientists could determine whether the flight to the moon would affect their growth.

    The simple table, with data provided by NASA, breaks down the locations and number of moon trees in that given area. All of them but one (located in Brazil), reside in the United States. Above the table, text explains that of the 500 seeds Astronaut Stuart Roosa carried aboard, NASA currently knows the location of 79 planted “Moon Trees.” The table provides an easy way for readers to visualize where they can find these trees.

    I like the simplicity of the table but if I were to do it differently, I might include the tree species and size.

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/space/2011-02-17-Moontrees17_ST_N.htm

  5. BBC News Africa has a feature on the problems in Somalia, “Somalia: 20 years of anarchy.” They address different issues that are taking place in Somalia and contributing to the problems faced by the country such as changing politics, refugees, pirates, and living standards. Through this article they use different graphs and maps to emphasize their text. One table stood out to me, and it only used text. It had three columns an index and two different years that are compared. It showcases how life has changed in Somalia. They got the information from the CIA, UN and UNICEF. What I find really interesting about this table is that is shows slowly improving living standards. Given the other information in the article you wouldn’t necessarily expect this. The simple text table is easy to understand and I thought it added to the article. The problem was that the article had many graphs and maps as well as the text, so the text table was swallowed up.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12285365

  6. A CNN article “Apple’s Growth is Deep and Wide,” written by Philip Elmer-DeWitt was posted in the financial and technology section.

    The story is about how a Romanian blogger named Horace Dediu accurately
    predicted Apple’s quarterly results over the past three quarters. The table showed a spreadsheet of information that Horace Dediu posted on his website. It analyzes the growth rate over the years of Apple’s products using a color-coded scorecard.

    Without this table, the story would have been much more confusing for me, since I am not a very business-minded person. Since I do not generally understand this kind of information, it was helpful to see the percentages and then the key with the color codes explained.

    If I were to do this differently, I would have made the table bigger. It was kind of hard to see the percentages because the table was so small.

    http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/tag/financial/

  7. N.Macon says:

    The BBC wrote an article about how and how this relates to almost triple growth in its fourth quarter earnings. To illustrate the stock’s growth today, BBC created a graph and positioned it to the right of the article.

    This graph didn’t add anything additional to the story, as it was only a daily change in stock prices, not change over the fourth quarter. An outline of Dell’s profits from the past few quarters would have been a more effective visual aid. Or perhaps a summary of the key financial figures the article mentions – where the growth took place, for example.

    The chart seemed to be something the writers and editors added to give the piece a little something extra, without thinking about how it would actually add to the story.

  8. N.Macon says:

    The BBC wrote an article about how Dell’s stock increased by 12 percent today and how this relates to almost triple growth in its fourth quarter earnings (<a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12478320&quot;). To illustrate the stock’s growth today, BBC created a graph and positioned it to the right of the article.

    This graph didn’t add anything additional to the story, as it was only a daily change in stock prices, not change over the fourth quarter. An outline of Dell’s profits from the past few quarters would have been a more effective visual aid. Or perhaps a summary of the key financial figures the article mentions – where the growth took place, for example.

    The chart seemed to be something the writers and editors added to give the piece a little something extra, without thinking about how it would actually add to the story.

  9. Benny Magno says:

    The story, iPhone sales grew 245% in 2008 – Gartner is about how Apple sales grew between 2007 and 2008. It shows how adding phones with a touch-based user interface boosted Apples mart share in the cellular industry. During this time period Apple showed growth of 245%.

    The story made ample use of tables to help the reader visualize the type of growth Apple was experiencing and juxtaposed it to other mobile device manufacturers. One table showed the number of smartphones sold in 2008 and another showed just in the 4th quarter of 2008. They each added different information by showing the overall growth of each of the smartphone carriers, and for a specific time period within that year.

    The information came from a source called Gartner who analyze data related to information-technology and also advise companies on business decisions.

    I would have maybe not used as many tables in the story because it does make the page design a little overwhelming. While I do believe each of the tables add to the story’s understandability and depth, I feel that the use of more than one table can be distracting.

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