Charting the Rise of Data Visualization Popularity in Newspapers

Lab Reports, Timelines


The topic chosen for the timeline is: “Charting the Rise of Data Visualization Popularity in Newspapers.” As the focus of our last class was on the history of data visualization, its development, and rise in popularity, I wanted to understand a subset of this chronology better, focusing on newspapers both in print and digital. As papers were often one of the most widely circulated vehicles for data visualizations and were generally accessible to almost all groups in society, I wanted to understand if it followed a similar chronology to the overall history of data visualization.


The historical data for this timetable was mostly based on an article from Priceonomics. There were sections of the material that I felt would benefit from additional images and content, so I also made use of resources from Atlasobscura, Datavis and Dolphins to supplement the timeline. The visualization was created using the Verite Timeline Tool by inputting all the necessary data into the tool’s template Google Spreadsheet.


The timeline was based on an analysis of the New York Times newspaper archives and the increasing frequency with which they published data visualizations between 1860 and 2015. The study divided the data into different eras that corresponded to the various stages of data visualization usage and development in the context of the newspaper. I made sure to include two different examples per era to illustrate that even within the same periods, progress was often so quick that even a decade could mean significant changes in the way newspapers used charts. Due to the popularity and wide circulation of the New York Times, I considered it to be substantial enough to indicate broader trends across the western newspaper industry and therefore a reliable indicator of the rise of newspaper graph usage.

Results and Interpretation

It became clear that there were four main phases of newspaper data visualization development:

•    The Visualization Dark Ages (1770-1929);

•    The Rise of Business Charts (1930-1979);

•    The Rise of the Non-Business Chart (1980-1999);

•    Modern Visualizations (2000-2015).

It also became apparent that the main impetus for the widespread circulation of data visualizations in newspapers came from business and finance, as until the 1990s, graphs were used for little else other than to illustrate quantitative business data. Early newspaper usage of charts is also a great example of data visualization ‘mistakes’ such as 3D graphs.

Reflections and Future Directions

I found the final timeline to be incredibly interesting but limited in its applicability. While we can understand a lot about what drove newspapers to start publishing graphs and how these were made, the data remains limited to one publication of American origin. Therefore, we are unable to consider other international or cultural perspectives on the usage and popularity of data visualizations in newspapers and whether they differ significantly from what we have found in the NYT archives. To rectify this, I would suggest that future directions for this research would include expanding the data analysis scope to include non-western newspapers. This would allow for a better understanding of whether these four phases in our results are consistent across the global newspaper industry, or limited to the western world.

Furthermore, when analysing the data, there are a few years that seem to have an exceptionally high number of graphs published, e.g.: 1940 (if we look at the graph on the title page). Another interesting future direction for this research would be to try to understand these exceptions and what social, political or economic factors may have contributed to a higher number of charts being published.

The Timeline

Click here to view the timeline.