Friday, January 16, 2009

The Power of Pictures: The Financial Crash and Survival on the Hudson

Pictures, graphs, and charts, if done well, provide a powerful way of representing information that will be part of our historical time-line in the future.

We've all read about the growing mortgage foreclosure problem. Most people probably pass at least one foreclosed property when they are out and about. The following picture puts it the problem in perspective:
Detroit Metropolitan Area Foreclosures 2006, 2007 & 2008 -Detroit Free Press

It might make a powerful impression if this graphic was integrated into an interactive map of the states, along with related info-graphics & data visualizations. In my opinion, the impact would last in my memory more so than the volume of text I'd have to read if I did not have access to the visualization.

Another example of powerful imagery is the slideshow of photographs related to the events surrounding the financial crash, posted on the Wall Street Journal website:

(I was not able to embed the slideshow.)

Photo Journalism By and For the People

Now that so many people carry around cell phones with cameras, recording powerful images as history is in the making is becoming common. A recent example, pointed out by Matthew Reichbach, of the New Mexico Independent, is the pictures that were taken after a US Airways plane safely "landed" in the Hudson River on 1/15/09.

The flight was on the way to Charlotte, NC, from New York City. Many of the passengers were employees of Bank of America who were flying home after talks regarding the merger with Merrill Lynch, according to an article in the Charlotte Observer. I shudder to imagine how the story would unfold if there were no survivors. The family, friends, and colleagues of the passengers would be devastated. The loss of so many key bankers involved in the merger of two corporate cultures would have dire consequences as well.

The following picture crashed Twitpic not long after it was uploaded by

"There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry to pick up the people. Crazy."

Photo of Hudson River plan crash downs TwitPic
(Daniel Terdiman, cNET News, 1/15/09)

Social Media, citizen journalism trumps traditional media--on the plane crashes beat
(Matthew Reichbach, the New Mexico Independent, 1/16/09)

As the news was breaking, CNN encouraged eye-witnesses to upload pictures and video to their iReport website, resulting in some moving pictures of what now is called a miracle:

iReport photos by EricinParis, a passenger on Flight 1549:

Miracle on the Hudson (Ann Doss Helms and Steve Lyttle, Charlotte Observer 1/16/09)

Finally, Charlotte Catches a Break (Corey Dade and Betsy McKay, Wall Street Journal 1/17/09)

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