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JUST FANCY THAT An analysis of infographic propaganda in The Daily Express, 1956–1959


DOI: 10.1080/1461670X.2013.872415

Dick, Murray. “Just Fancy That.” Journalism Studies 00.00 (2014): 1–23. Web.

p.2: This research finds that the emergence of infographics as a regular phenomenon in UK news can be traced back to The Daily Express of the mid-1950s. These “Expressographs” were often used not as a means of conveying data accurately and objectively, but in order to propagate the paper’s editorial line, and to further Lord Beaverbook’s political interests. A series of editorial narratives are established via the literature on The Daily Express, and its proprietor Lord Beaverbrook. These narratives are used as a framework to analyse statistical infographics published in The Daily Express between January 1956 and October 1959, by means of a combined content analysis and structural semiotic analysis. Best practice, as espoused in the information design literature, is used to identify misleading graphical methods in the sample, which were then analysed in the context of the editorial narratives identified. This study finds that infographics in UK news were the product of a lavishly financed organisation whose key decisionmakers were deeply concerned with the impact of the visual in news. The purpose of these infographics was to perpetuate their employer’s idiosyncratic view of how the world should be. Occupational norms and practices may account for some of the biases identified, but cannot account for the breadth, range and consistency of bias found across the sample, which constitutes an example of mid-twentieth-century propaganda. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.3: Beaverbrook was popular amongst his journalists, who recognised his preparedness to invest heavily in news production (Greenslade 2004, 165). This largess was also recognised at the time by the Economist Intelligence Unit, which criticised Beaverbrook’s titles as being the most over-manned, wasteful, and inefficient in Fleet Street—lending much to the notion that Beaverbrook invested in newspapers as a means of achieving personal ends, rather than as a financial means to an end (197). That he used his newspapers as vehicles for propaganda is well established in the literature (Greenslade 2004; Chapman and Nuttall 2011), and is indeed a matter of public record. His contribution to the Royal Commission on the Press in 1947 contained the infamous admission that he ran the paper “purely for the purpose of making propaganda -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.5: The Express remained, as one leader column slogan declared: “The paper that keeps faith with the Empire” (Daily Express, October 30, 1959, 8). -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

Findings: Methods of Bias in Infographics

p.8: Bias in the Implication of Order A table (Figure 1) is used to detail the average pay for three non-professional employment sectors in four countries (France, West Germany, Italy, and Britain). Britain is listed bottom in this table, but no clear method of organisation is chosen to justify this position (for example, in terms of alphabetical, or scale ordering). Britain has the highest average earnings for all three of these sectors compared with the others, and yet (in keeping with the anti-collective narrative) it remains at the bottom of the table. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.9: Improper scaling. In 19 of the 35 pictorial graphs found in the sample (54 per cent) the use of two-dimensional images or figures to represent single variables was found to distort or bias data -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.9: General Methods of Bias in Statistical Graphs Truncated axis. Fluctuations in the price of petrol between 1950 and 1957 are exaggerated by means of a truncated vertical axis on a line graph -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.11: Irregularity in scale. The issue of infant mortality is expressed by means of a line graph containing five different variables labelled as “social groups” (Figure 7). The time series starts at 1911 on the horizontal axis, and runs to 1950 (left to right), while the vertical axis is marked at irregular intervals of deaths per 1000 live births (4, 6, 8, 10, 20, 40, 60, 80, 120, from bottom to top) with inconsistently scaled gaps between these values (the gap between 120 and 80, for example, is approximately a third of the size of the gap between 20 and 10). This irregularity is most pronounced amongst the highest numbers, and so the visual effect is to harmonise the five trend-lines, and so make the decline in mortality look broadly consistent across all groups over time. This approach dampens the positive visual effect of public health expenditure (and the advent of the NHS) on mortality rates for the poorest in society. It also informs a misleading reading of the data, as expressed in the accompanying opinion piece: “in spite of the levelling influences of ‘free’ medical service, subsidised milk, cheap vitamins, the soaking of the rich by income tax, babies born to the better-off still stand a much better chance of survival than those born to poorer parents” (Daily Express, June 4, 1959, 8). -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.14: Scaling such that all “social groups” appear to decline relative to each other. If scaled regularly, this graph would show a comparatively dramatic decline in infant mortality amongst the poorest social group (Daily Express, June 4, 1959, 8). -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.18: The careful selection of time intervals can also be used to effectively erase from history those periods when support for the Conservatives dropped. In one infographic five time intervals are presented to indicate which party the public would vote for at the next election, over time: “General Election 1955”, “August 1958”, “September 1958”, “October 1958” and “now” (mid-October) (Figure 12). This schedule elides two years of polling data, during much of which time Labour held a consistent and at times substantial lead. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014

p.21: That almost 8 per cent of the infographics identified in this study were accompaniments to opinion pieces shows that those responsible for the production of the newspaper recognised the power of information design to persuade as well as to inform. -- Highlighted mar 13, 2014