Graphic journalism covering drone warfare

From Professor Bill Silcock of Arizona State comes this incredible example of data and graphics coming together to tell a very large story of our time. It takes two or three clicks, but you’ll soon have a different understanding of the United States’ use of drones in warfare.

Check out Out of Sight, Out of Mind, a visualization of drone strikes in Pakistan since 2004, by Pitch Interactive.

It is important to note that Pitch isn’t just using or making up lines and colors. Click the News tab and you’ll see great recent coverage beneath the graphic. Clicking Info gives you some great descriptives and selecting Victims will offer you some individual notes about each strike.

Like any graphic element we must consider what is going on here. Not every graph in a newspaper or magazine or pamphlet is the same. They can be designed for optimal responses, of course. The same is true for a sharp bit of javascript. If you drop those lines in ever-faster you can generate a striking emotional response, for example.

Not that you need to here — the numbers are sadly impressive no matter how you represent them — just something of which you should be aware.

If anything, I’d hope that the developers would stratify the “Other” category a bit. As of this writing that group has 2,348 deaths, or 75.6 percent, of the total. “Other” should never be a majority, but here’s Pitch’s reasoning:

The category of victims we call “OTHER” is classified differently depending on the source. The Obama administration classifies any able-bodied male a military combatant unless evidence is brought forward to prove otherwise. This is a very grey area for us. These could be neighbors of a target killed. They may all be militants and a threat. What we do know for sure is that they are targeted without being given any representation or voice to defend themselves.

An important component of this story is the ramification of that policy, especially when you remember this is a discussion about the ambiguity of people in a country in which we aren’t fighting an active, legal war.

That’s not a criticism of Pitch, because it is a murky position, but is rather a big point the media should be making for their audience: “This is what is going on in your name, within very loosely defined parameters.”

That’s the story of drone strikes.

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