Charles Apple

A longtime news artist and designer, Apple is the former graphics director of the Virginian-Pilot and the Des Moines Register. He teaches design and graphics workshops, does some consulting work and blogs for the American Copy Editors Society.

George McGovern

How Sioux Falls marked the death of George McGovern

South Dakota war hero, senator, presidential candidate and world hunger relief advocate George McGovern passed away Sunday at age 90.

Here’s how his hometown paper, the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls, played the story today on page one.

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How Super Tuesday election maps could be improved

‘Tis the season for election maps. Big ones, small ones. Red ones, blue ones. They’re out there, despite the fact that big maps of the U.S. don’t really come into play until it’s time to tally electoral votes in November.

Have you ever wondered why Democrats are blue and Republicans are red on your typical election night map? Has it always been this way? Should we even be messing with state maps during primary season? How might we begin planning visuals for November?

I addressed these questions and offered related tips in a live chat with Poynter’s Sara Quinn. You can replay the chat here…

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >How could Super Tuesday election maps be improved?</a> Read more

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How does the brain perceive & process news online?

Why is it that most news sites are so difficult to navigate? Why does “intelligent Web design” seem like such an oxymoron?

We discussed these topics and more in a live chat with Paul Bolls, associate director and co-director of the Psychological Research on Information and Media Effects Lab at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

Bolls is studying how the brain perceives and processes online news and advertising, using equipment that measures physiological responses to what users see on Web pages. He writes that he hopes to discover what will make news and ad content “that users pay more attention to, understand better, and remember longer.”

Here are some interesting excerpts from his recent blog posts:

  • “Product advertisers have known for years that an aesthetically pleasing product will increase approach behaviors — grounded in basic motivational processes in the brain — among consumers, but the news industry has yet to realize its potential as a communication product.”
  • “Somewhere along the line it appears to have erroneously been decided that listing a ton of unrelated bits of information in menu form is great for Web design. This completely goes against the fundamental nature of the human brain and how it processes information.”
  • “Brain-friendly online news websites are not only more likely to actually make people smarter about the world around them — my simple way of stating the ideal objective of journalism — but also provide a more effective advertising environment.”

Preliminary results of his research won’t be released until this Spring. You can read more about Bolls’ research project here, and see some of his previous papers on the PRIME Lab’s site.

You can replay the chat here:

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How the Indianapolis Star plans to enhance its Super Bowl coverage with visuals

In advance of this weekend’s Super Bowl, I chatted with Scott Goldman, director of digital and visuals at the Indianapolis Star.

The Star historically works hard to find interesting ways to cover sporting events, from the 2010 college basketball Final Four to the Colts’ Super Bowl appearances to the annual Indy 500. During the chat, Scott talked about what the Star is working on this week and offered tips on how to use visuals, Web galleries and multimedia to cover a story as big as the Super Bowl.

A 1990 graduate of Syracuse University, Scott spent two years as the Sunday sports editor for the Post-Star of Glens Falls, N.Y., before becoming assistant sports editor of the Charlotte Observer in 1994. He moved to the Washington Post in 1999 — again, as assistant sports editor — and then to the Indianapolis Star in 2004 as assistant managing editor. Scott also served as president of the Society for News Design in 2006.

Originally from Framingham, Mass., Scott admits he’s a “fan of all things Boston. Yes, including the band.”

You can replay the chat below.

We plan to hold other live chats for designers in the weeks and months to come. If you have ideas about topics we should pursue, feel free to share them in the comments section.

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >How the Indianapolis Star plans to cover the Super Bowl with visuals</a>

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The problem with all those ‘patchwork’ Iowa state maps on Caucus night

As you might have seen Tuesday night, a number of news sites showed county-by-county results of the Iowa Caucus as they rolled in late.

But did the maps actually tell us anything? With seven or eight candidates vying for delegates, color palettes were stretched to design limits showing results across Iowa’s 99 counties. The effect over much of the evening looked less like political analysis and more like a midwestern-style patchwork quilt.

The New York Times:

The Iowa Republican Party’s Google-based map:

The Los Angeles Times:

A fact which caught the eye of pundits, including the New York Times’ David Carr.

Plus, the results came in so painfully, painfully late in the evening. Be honest: Did you ride out the evening, watching the colors fill in the little county map icons? Or did you chuck the whole thing to watch yet another overtime finish to a bowl game?

Until enough results came in to allow us to see geographic patterns, I maintain the ubiquitous maps weren’t of much use in telling stories. In this New York Times map from around 10:25 Tuesday night, for example — with only 37 percent of caucus sites reporting — we see Ron Paul was leading Rick Santorum in Iowa’s most populous county, Polk.

Yet, in the end, Mitt Romney carried that county with 28.4 percent of votes cast. Ron Paul finished with 22.6 percent and Santorum came in a close third with 21.6 percent.

For the Iowa Caucus, at least, county maps just didn’t help Tuesday night. And they’re only marginally helpful the next day, when the vote is in.

The Times maps were the easiest to read and to access. CNN’s maps were by far the quickest to update, with data streaming into them a good 10 or 15 minutes before it made its way to most of the other maps I found.

The catch: CNN’s maps were — as we used to say back in Iowa — butt-ugly and, oddly, stretched horizontally. For the largest portion of the evening, there wasn’t even a direct link to them from CNN’s main caucus coverage page. Rapidly-updated maps do a reader no good if the reader can’t find them.

One step in the right direction was the way The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times included an extra dimension by giving readers the option to view the size of the victory — or, in this case, the margin so far — of the leading candidate in each county.

I liked the mouseover boxes the NYT popped up for the reader…

…while the subtle color choices used by the LAT were difficult to see against the grey background map.

The very best graphic to have used last night, I’d argue, would be one that shows simple results. Like a bar chart, for instance. CNN used a bar chart on its home page, but the thickness of the bars made them relatively difficult to read at a glance.

The best bar chart I saw online last night is this one by — once again — the New York Times.

The color blocks on the left keyed to the maps I showed you earlier, which were a short scroll downpage.

But the real important info here is that column on the far right: The number of delegates won. At this point in the evening — 10:18 p.m., with only 48 percent of the votes in — the Iowa GOP hadn’t yet certified any results. But if you look at the chart now, on the day after…

…you see those numbers filled in. Mitt Romney won 13 delegates toward the GOP nomination. Rick Santorum — only eight votes behind — finished with 12. No delegates were awarded to the other candidates.

And that’s all we really need to know about Tuesday’s Iowa Caucus.

Because the caucus isn’t about state-by-state, winner-take-all results, like the national presidential race will be in November.

In my opinion, all the energy spent creating — and viewing and discussing — the patchwork-like state maps last night was misspent. The Iowa caucus — and even the Republican primaries to come over the next few weeks — are about the numbers — the delegates won — and not about the counties.

Unless there is something to be learned by maps.

Now, take the maps in today’s print edition of the Des Moines Register (click for a readable view):

There are, in fact, a few things we can see right away.

  • Romney carried many of the more populated areas.
  • Santorum and Paul did better in rural areas. It makes for an impressive display on a map. But all those dark-blue and light-pink counties are sparsely populated.
  • While Newt Gingrich (light-blue) didn’t win a single county outright, he finished second in five counties and third in maybe a couple dozen.
  • Michelle Bachmann finished second in one county and third in two counties, but didn’t win a single one of Iowa’s 99 counties. No wonder she dropped out of the race today.

And that’s just my quick take. Someone who’s been working this story for weeks might be able to look at this map and pull out a number of other fascinating talking points, any of which might make for further stories.

But you see what it took to do it: Three maps. That’s a lot of real estate — especially in print.

(And, I might add, kudos to the artist here, Katie Kunert. You can tell by her work that the person who hired her out of college in 2000 must have given her the very best training.)

(Full disclosure: Um, yes, I’m the one who hired and trained her.)

So: What might the rest of us in journalismland take away from all this?

1. During the primaries, focus more on the overall results and less on interactive maps. Unless you have specific stories you might can tell.

2. In other words, think bar charts. Within a week or two, you’ll find a second bar chart will become very important. That’s the bar chart that shows the cumulative total of delegates won by each candidate throughout primary season.

Here’s a modest example of my own from the day after the 2008 Virginia primary. (It’s very wide. So again, click for a readable view).

Note the vertical line at the right: Needed to win the nomination. And the bar across the bottom: Delegates yet to be chosen. You don’t necessarily need the latter. But you do need the former.

Something like this, really, should suffice for most primaries over the next few weeks:

Votes received. Percent. And delegates awarded. Because each state awards its delegates differently, you might want to add a sentence or two explaining the rules for each primary.

But it can be that simple.

In 2008, I liked previewing each primary day by telling readers what they might expect. And the editors of the Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk — where I worked as graphics editor during primary season that year — were kind enough to give me the space to tell those stories. (Once again, click for a larger, readable look.)

For each primary, I listed when the polls close, how many delegates are at stake, how the delegates are awarded and a quick glance at the most recent polls.

Across the bottom is the all-important delegate horserace. Just because we political junkies keep up with these numbers doesn’t mean readers will remember them from Tuesday to Tuesday.

And when the big election day comes around in November — well, I have some ideas on how we all might cover that, as well.

In the meantime, though, there are primaries to deal with. Candidates to track. And readers to inform.

Coming up next:

  • Tuesday, Jan. 10: New Hampshire Primary
  • Saturday, Jan. 21: South Carolina Primary
  • Tuesday, Jan. 31: Florida Primary

Up and at ‘em, folks! Read more


What Caucus season is really like for journalists in Iowa

It’s not often, living here in Virginia Beach, that I get homesick for Iowa in the middle of winter.

But I do have fond memories of Caucus season — despite the fact that I spent only one election cycle in Iowa, as graphics editor of the Des Moines Register.

You have to understand a little about Iowans: They’re a proud people, but — never mind all the banking and insurance work done there — at heart, the place really is a relatively uncomplicated farming community. I found Iowans to be warm, well-read — thank goodness! — and to have a pretty good sense of humor about themselves. (Unless, perhaps, they are the target of what they consider to be unfair shots. Then: Watch out!)

But Caucus season is Iowa’s one time, every four years, to be in the national spotlight. Iowans take pride in their admittedly small role in the election process. And they put on their best face for the TV cameras and the hordes of reporters that descend on the state like so many locusts.

Except locusts aren’t nearly as noisy.

“The attention is nice,” writes longtime staffer Dave Elbert, the Register’s business columnist. “I think everyone in town enjoys it, even the people who complain about it.”

As you may have read, the lobby bar at the downtown Des Moines Marriott has been the unofficial gathering point for the nation’s political correspondents. What you might not realize, however, is that the Marriott shares a block with the state’s largest newspaper.

Photo by Google Maps.

This time of year, hardly anyone walks on ice-slickened sidewalks. In order to walk from the Register to the Marriott via Des Moines’ circuitous skywalk system, one walks out the South end of the newsroom, across Locust Street through the office building and atop a food court, back across Locust Street and up the block. A short escalator ride then places one smack in the middle of the political universe.

I ventured over there only a time or two during Caucus season. The place was indeed a zoo.

As is the newsroom itself, from time to time.

Register managing editor Randy Brubaker tells me:

Just as Iowans generally enjoy their moment (or months) in the spotlight with the caucuses, the same is true for the Register.  It was a treat, for example, to see the Twitter universe awaiting our poll results last Saturday night. Not often do you see Tweets like this on New Year’s Eve, from Howard Kurtz:

The politics team has done tremendous work for the past several months under politics editor Carol Hunter. They (along with the photo staff) may be getting a bit weary as they’ve criss-crossed the state at the candidates’ sides for the past several weeks. But this whirlwind is part of what we live for here at the Register. In addition, editor Rick Green, Carol, politics columnist Kathie Obradovich, chief political reporter Jennifer Jacobs and others have spent a lot of time doing TV and radio segments in the past two weeks. And we’ve hosted journalism students in the newsroom from LSU, Michigan, Oxford University, among others, over the past week, too.

As in the past, we’ve supplemented the politics team with staffers from across the newsroom, and many, many hands will be involved in our efforts tonight – delivering results and reaction and, then publishing a 12-page special section for Wednesday’s central Iowa print readers.

Elbert writes:

We’ve had TV crews from all over the country (world, actually) coming up to the newsroom since mid-summer, so everyone is pretty much used to the attention.

It’s also been fun to see the candidates parade through the newsroom. Last month, we had Rick Perry and Mitt Romney back to back. Perry literally went out the back door as Romney was coming in the front. It’s always interesting to see what they look like in person. For example, I pictured Romney as much taller than my 6’1”, but when I walked past him, my impression was that if anything he is shorter.

I’ve met a few politicians throughout my journalism career. But nothing like what I went through in Iowa in 2000. Nearly every candidate that year crisscrossed the state — and the Des Moines metro area — leaving no hand unshook, no baby unkissed.

My graphics editing station was located at the far end of the Register’s newsroom, with a commanding view of both the largest conference room as well as the entry to the editorial department. Therefore, I had a bird’s eye view of the entire parade.

Apple in the Des Moines Register graphics department in 2003. Photo by Robert Nandell, Des Moines Register.

I recall the day former Sen. Bill Bradley dropped by. One of my staffers stared with her jaw open as he strolled past with his handlers. “My gosh, he’s tall!” she finally said when he was out of earshot. She was unaware the 6-foot-five-inch Bradley had spent 10 years as a star for the New York Knicks.

Vice-President Al Gore showed up very late for his meeting with our editorial board. When he finally reached the newsroom, he looked around at all the reporters and editors and — blowing off the meeting — walked up and down the aisles, shaking every hand in the room. Dennis Ryerson — then the Register’s executive editor but now editor of the Indianapolis Star — stood near my desk with arms folded, watching the spectacle and fumed: “He’s lost the good will of the editorial board.”

Perhaps so, I countered. But he’s picked up 50 votes in the newsroom. Dennis could only laugh and agree.

When Gore reached my cube — the last stop before the meeting room — he stopped and chatted a moment, remarking about the action figure collection on my desk. I found him to be warm and funny and relaxed and very chatty. Not at all the way Gore seems, to this day, on TV. Go figure.

Earlier that day, I earned what is surely my claim to Caucus season fame. A secret service detail made a quick sweep through the newsroom with explosive-sniffing dogs. While they were poking through the stacks of tearsheets in my cabinet, I wisecracked to a friend that I reckoned President Bill Clinton has a similar dog patrol. Except they’re drug sniffing dogs. And they’re for procurement.

Apparently, I spoke too loudly. The secret service agents cracked up laughing. I was proud to have brightened their day. And I’m mildly surprised I’m not on some sort of watch list today.

A section of Caucus-day front pages from around Iowa. Pages from the Newseum.

My strongest Caucus season memory, however, is of the day former Vice President Dan Quayle passed through. Quayle didn’t have a chance in Iowa and everyone knew it. So he strolled across the newsroom with relatively little fanfare and only two handlers.

He turned the corner by my cabinets, took one look at my cube and came to a dead halt. I watched his face light up like a 5-year-old’s. With delight, he blurted out one word: “TOYS!”

His two handlers, each a pace behind, looked at each other with exasperation and rolled their eyes.

I’ll never forget the way they hustled him past my desk.

The Iowa Caucuses. You have to love ‘em. Read more

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Journalists circumvent LAPD restrictions during Occupy LA evictions

LA Weekly | LA Observed | KTLA 5 | LA Times | LA Daily News
More than 200 Occupy LA protestors were arrested and removed Tuesday night from City Hall Park. Covering the arrests was a media pool selected by the Los Angeles Police Dept. in a meeting announced less than two hours before it began. The pool consisted of 12 journalists, who were asked to share reporting with each other before publishing to their own sites. Read more

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Newspapers spend too little on advertising their product

David Higgerson
Newspapers spend less than 1 percent of their revenue on advertising, compared to Coca-Cola’s 14 percent, says David Higgerson, head of multimedia for Trinity Mirror Regionals in the U.K., who learned that fact at a recent Society of Editors conference. Coca-Cola’s spending, writes Higgerson, “ensures we remember who they are and what they do. Newspapers … have been forgotten by many people.” He suggests that better promotion of newspapers might be in order:

  • Make promotions local.
  • “Don’t over-sensationalise for the sake of it.”
  • Consider promoting anything — even job listings or cartoons, if they merit it.

Earlier: Newspaper Association of America tries to sell U.S. readers on the notion that “Smart is the new sexy” | Does Coke’s ad on New York Times website violate its policy against ads that look like Times content? (CJR) Read more


Dallas Morning News publisher: 7-day-a-week publication ‘sustainable for another decade’

“We have far from given up on the print model. We’re not modeling how to diminish it,” James Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, tells Caitlin Johnston of the American Journalism Review. “I still think the seven-day-a-week business can be sustainable for another decade.” Last month, the News’ vice president for audience, Mark Medici, told the Inland Press Association conference that “we know in three years we won’t have a seven-day paper”; Moroney later said that it was all a “misstatement or a misunderstanding.” Related: Medici named vice president of audience and digital strategy for the Austin American-Statesman. Read more


Media criticized for being too hard on Cain, not hard enough on Romney

CJR | New Yorker

CJR’s Brian E. Crowley acknowledges that Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain showed ignorance of an immigration issue last week, but he questions how aggressively the national media jumped on it. The issue that stumped Cain this time: Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo asked the candidate how he felt about the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy regarding Cubans trying to come to the U.S. Crowley writes:

The ledes to many a Cain’s Day in Florida stories wrote themselves: grab that familiar (and, not unfounded) Herman Cain is a foreign policy know-nothing story template, plug in fresh anecdote, and, file!

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, meanwhile, takes Mitt Romney to task for his first paid campaign ad, which includes video of President Barack Obama saying, “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” Lizza points out that Obama was quoting an advisor for John McCain:

This is one of those cases where a candidate has put out something that is demonstrably false. If a journalist or writer quoted someone in such an intellectually dishonest way, you would never trust the person’s writing again. And yet this episode is being reported by some as a clever tactic by the Romney camp to spark a debate about the ad’s accuracy that will serve to highlight its overall message that Obama has been a failure. (See, it worked!)

Related: Wolf Blitzer calls Romney ad a “new low” || Earlier: New Cain campaign ad accuses media of “high-tech lynching” | A viewer’s guide on how  to watch campaign ads Read more