Profile (belated) and data story: Sands Fish

I interviewed Sands Fish for our class profiles assignment months ago and decided to try to profile him through the medium in which he is an expert: data visualization. However, I ran into a road block that I wasn’t able to resolve until our data visualization class. So I’m combining two assignments in one and finally presenting my results.

After Sands and I talked, I transcribed 25 minutes of our interview, including even the “um”s and “yeah”s. Then I analyzed the text from several different perspectives, trying to echo Sands’ work with MediaCloud, which crunches massive amounts of data to discover the relationships between words and the people who use them. In our case, I wanted to get a visual representation of the themes and rhythm of our interview.

First, I analyzed the language we each used. Here are the words I used most often:

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 10.52.27 PM

And the ones Sands used most often:

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 10.53.21 PM

There wasn’t a lot of overlap.

Then I counted the number of words in each uninterrupted chunk of speech and made a spreadsheet recording each of those chunks under our respective names, with the minute timestamp interspersed. For example, here is the first five minutes:

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 11.12.56 PM

Here is a streamgraph that shows our individual share of the conversation, and the overall give and take. I used total words per person per minute to produce this graph on

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 10.56.54 PM

Then I took a more granular look at the first 10 minutes of conversation, using cumulative word count instead of minutes as the x-axis value. That gave me a better sense of the frequency of volleys between us, and the duration of each uninterrupted chunk of speech:

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 11.15.35 PM

Here are a few takeaways I gleaned about my interview style by representing the interview visually:

  • I affirm understanding in lazy ways (yeah, OK, mhmm), and I interrupt a lot.
  • It would be better would be to remain silent until the end of my interviewee’s explanation, and then affirm my understanding in a summary that uses key words and phrases that he or she has shared.
  • Overall the share of conversation is roughly appropriate for interviewer and interviewee, though the spike at 22 represents a story I shared that probably didn’t add much to the interview.

Christa’s media diary

I had a very unusual week due to a few one-off obligations, so my results are rather skewed. I am planning on doing this exercise again in the coming week, with cool graphics. However, initial insights include:

  • I spent very little total time on Facebook (30 min for the week) but I checked it many times a day, leading to many interruptions.
  • All the serious news articles I consumed online came through email newsletters or Facebook. I also read some news in newspaper form.
  • I spent more time reading about World Cup cross-country skiing results than “serious” news, despite the fact that I had to seek out those stories myself rather than seeing them on Facebook or in my email. (It was an outstanding weekend for the US ladies. Still, this is embarrassing.)
  • I am really surprised how much time I spend texting. I could have read the Wall Street Journal A section all the way through about three times for the amount of time I spent texting – not to mention all the interruptions that make it take longer to do other things, or prevent you from finishing them.

My breakdown by media category, with the type I consumed most of first and least last: movies, videos, email, news, making media, texting, Facebook, iCal, shopping, weather

Lastly, while the rest of the week was kind of a bust, I had a very interesting experience today that taught me more about how to get people to read even when they think they’re too busy for the news (myself included). In Jerusalem, I always got frustrated that I would post a picture of a stray cat or Palestinian kids playing in the snow and get dozens of likes, but when I posted a story I’d worked on for weeks, only a few people ‘liked’ it.

Today I came across a story on Facebook that some friends (not close friends) had shared and despite my weird week, I was impelled to click on it. It was called, “Having it all kinda sucks.” I found it so compelling that I read all the way through, shared it on my FB page, and tagged a few women friends who are mothers and asked what they thought. That led to the best FB conversation I’ve ever had on my page. It gave me hope for engaging my FB friends on important topics.

Looking forward to doing this again with a more representative week.

Posted in All – DIY for data visualization

I really love this tool that allows reporters to develop their own data visualization components for a story. For years I was forever waiting for an old-school graphics guy to get me maps or charts I had requested, and they always seemed lacking in creativity and dynamism but I didn’t have the skill set to conceptualize or illustrate something different. This tool allows you to plug your data into a variety of graphs and charts and that experimentation could either lead to something you could publish, take to your data viz guy as a prototype, or expand your concept and enable you to imagine something new altogether. I think it really democratizes the process of data visualization, which is key to keeping readers engaged online, I think.
— Christa

Posted in All