Australian first for CSU journalism students

Wednesday 22 Jun 2016

student headsCharles Sturt University (CSU) journalism students have created what is believed to be the first-ever interactive electoral map in Australia that visually reveals the marginal status of each electorate.

The map is just in time for the 2016 federal election and was developed in a second-year data journalism subject in the CSU School of Communication and Creative Industries in Bathurst.

The clickable map is available online at the UniPollWatch website and includes 'pop out' boxes for each electorate which contain listings of all candidates and the number of enrolled voters.

Also known as 'Australia's largest newsroom', UniPollWatch is a collaboration of 28 Australian universities to provide coverage of the 2016 federal election.

The data journalism students became involved in the project through their CSU journalism teaching staff, Dr Margaret Van Heekeren, Ms Isabel Fox, and Ms Sandra Parker.

Ms Fox, a former computer programmer and journalist, says the project has enabled CSU journalism and media students to be at the cutting edge of contemporary journalism.

"Everywhere you look in the news, stories are being presented visually, whether in graphics, tables or maps. Some are static but some, like ours, are interactive," Ms Fox said.

"Being able to work with data and create visualisations from data has become a new way of telling stories within journalism and employers want graduates who know how to do it."

Data journalism has been taught at CSU for several years but this is the most sophisticated project ever undertaken.

Students in the internal and distance offerings of the subject were given electorates to research and, using Australian Electoral Commission geographic data, created individual electoral maps which were they then coloured according to the seat's marginal status. They completed further research on enrolled voter numbers and sitting Members.

These individual works were then brought together by Ms Fox and CSU's Spatial Analysis Unit in a composite map, which has now been linked to the UniPollWatch website.

"We believe this is an Australian first," said Ms Fox. "Our research has not uncovered any other map that shows the marginal status of each seat. People are used to seeing electoral pendulums which show this information, but we believe the map is far more interesting to look at and much easier to understand."

Electorates that are considered to be the safest margin are coloured in a dark red for Labor, dark blue for Liberal and dark green for the Nationals. As the margin narrows the colours fade, with the most marginal seats the palest.

"The map developed at Charles Sturt University is a fantastic contribution to our national election coverage," said Mr Andrew Dodd, UniPollWatch editor-in-chief and Swinburne University journalism lecturer.  "We've admired the skills and dedication of the CSU students and staff as they've developed this over the last couple of months."

The students used industry-standard mapping software Tableau and, according to Ms Fox, despite the fact most of the students are still early in their studies they rose to the challenge. The map can be viewed at Election at a Glance


Media contact: Bruce Andrews, (02) 6338 6084

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