Data Tells The Story

Twenty years ago I first saw the Minard chart representing Napoleon’s march to Moscow and was in awe of its clear and persuasive representation of data. I still get a thrill when I see it:

The famous Minard chart, depicting the size of Napoleon’s army as it marched to Moscow and retreated

Minard’s chart inspired the concept behind my analytics company, ClickTracks, which I started in 2001. AdTech (nee Web Marketing) was nascent. Marketers knew how many people arrived at a website, but not what they did once there. It was a data visualization problem. My solution was to display the actions visitors took superimposed on a representation of the site:

ClickTracks, a software tool I invented, showing the way different visitor segments behave

The tool was an immediate hit. I was fortunate to have talented people around me who grew the business. Their knowledge of sales, marketing and technology enabled me to remain the ideas guy. I was always striving to improve the way our tools presented data to tell a more compelling story.

The March To Moscow chart was popularized through the work of Edward Tufte, and I can’t overstate the impact his work had on my career. I own all of his books, which I refer to time and time again. I attended his one day seminar, and it was life changing. No exaggeration.

So I’d like to show you another graph that astonished me when I saw it in 2019:

The Media Bias chart, from AdFontes Media

A clear-thinking and brave person understood how something complex works, and decided to show the rest of us. Vanessa Otero, you have my sincere thanks for stripping away the empty opinions about media bias and quantifying it.

I found myself wondering why news publications would embrace such biases. We’ve all seen it happen, especially in the United States. It has a corrosive effect on our society. I had to uncover the reason.

My skills lie in the fields of business, technology and data presentation. Putting those to work, I realized that:

  1. News publishers are businesses
  2. Businesses need happy customers
  3. The customers are subscribers or AdTech
  4. Both can be quantified

Thus began my quest to quantify the business of news. Some dislike my analysis. That’s OK. It’s not a popularity contest. And I’m not trying replace The Media Bias Chart. It does a good job explaining the biases of news. I’m explaining why a news publisher would choose a bias.

The reason is simple: It’s a business choice that’s driven by the demands of customers.

A selection of news sites from my analysis. Full list here.