An open letter to Entertainment Weekly

To whoever designed the movie graph on page 34 of last week’s “50 Most Powerful Entertainers” issue,

I am a huge infographics nerd. After taking my Information Graphics design class last semester at the Missouri School of Journalism, I have taken a special interest in them. I love the concept of being able to display information visually, but there are some simple rules that must be followed in order for a infographic to be properly understood. Breaking these rules can lead to misunderstandings and disasters in general.

Now I will be the first to admit that I adore Entertainment Weekly. I look forward to my mail every Friday/Saturday to catch up on my celebrity news and entertainment updates. So when I saw this graph in last week’s issue, I was greatly saddened.


The graph in question


The graph is supposed to show the biggest hits and flops of several notable movie stars, gauged by their box-office sales. This graph has several design flaws.

#1 The way the graph is set up, it looks as if the flop movies made negative amounts of money. Because graphs with bars below the 0-hash mark traditionally indicate negative numbers, this graph, when read quickly, seems to show that these flop movies lost money. This is not the case. The flop movies just didn’t make as much money as the hits. In this case, I probably would have used some sort of double-bar graph.

#2 The scale for the flops is completely different from the scale for the hits. While the hits scale reads from $0 to $300 million, the flops scale reads from $0 to $2 million. This means that a one-inch bar on the top half of the graph would represent a lot more money than a one-inch bar on the bottom half of the graph. This is just misleading. While it appears at a glance that Sandra, Matt, Vince, Jackie, Cameron and Jodie all made more money on their hits than on their flops, Halle is a different story. If you just take the bars’ lengths without paying close attention to the scale, it appears that Halle’s flop made more money than her hit. which makes absolutely no sense and is untrue. This is what happens when you don’t use a consistent scale. Again, this could be remedied by a double-bar graph.

While I realize in the end, none of this really matters, the inner graph-nerd in me couldn’t not say something.

I won’t hold this against you this time, EW. Just make sure you’re more careful in the future.

With loving constructive criticism,
Lindsay Cochrum


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