Project description

Is anything left of Mosul? is a visually-led piece on the devastation caused to Mosul, Iraq, as a result of the battle to rid the city of Islamic State (IS). It was published at a time when the scale of the destruction to buildings and people’s lives was just becoming clear.

The piece is simple enough for an entry-level audience, as well as for those with a specific interest in Middle East affairs and the battle against IS.

It not only gives people a full picture of the devastating scale of destruction, it also connects them to the real people who live in the city – essential when trying to tell stories from places people may not instantly relate to.

It was also designed mobile-first, giving users on small screens the full, in-depth experience.

The feature uses the latest data from Unosat, allowing us to map in detail which buildings had suffered damage over time, telling the narrative of the war through four maps.

We also placed the damaged buildings shapefile over a high-resolution satellite image, to better highlight the significant buildings and bridges which had been destroyed, and to contextualise the areas that were targeted.

The feature incorporates interactive sliders to show the contrast of life before the conflict and after – a way of giving the audience an element of control over the storytelling.

We also used the latest data from the UNHCR, which told us where and when displaced people in Iraq had fled to and from.

We mapped this data using QGIS’ heatmapping software and visualised it using our in-house Google Maps Chrome extension. We produced three heatmaps of Mosul at different phases of the battle, again telling a narrative of how the fighting had shifted to residential targets as the war went on.

What makes this project innovative?

The feature was produced and published using BBC visual journalism team’s “Simple framework” in-house story-telling tool.
Simple framework structures content using a spreadsheet, freeing up the journalist to add/edit/remove/reorder components in the page with minimal developer intervention.

The system allows journalists to publish full width responsive pages and interactive content outside of the main content management system – the advantage being that it gives the journalist more control over how the content is displayed as well as enabling content to be easily reversioned and published in other languages.

What was the impact of your project? How did you measure it?

The project was successful in terms of audience engagement with nearly half a million page views over several days in English, plus a higher than average number referred from search and a high proportion of users getting to the end of the story and interacting with both the simple image sliders.

We also translated the feature into 10 other languages for BBC World Service audiences around the world. These were: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, Uzbek, Pashto, Portuguese and Kyrgyz.

Source and methodology

The data and shapefiles we used for mapping came from the UNHCR and Unosat.

To identify the narrative of the war in Mosul,and the surrounding area, we used Excel pivot tables to analyse which dates saw biggest spikes in damage or displaced people.

We then checked with the UN that this data analysis matched information that had emerged from on the ground reports.

We split the data up according to these dates using QGIS’ Python query module, and visualised it using a combination of QGIS and the BBC’s in-house Google Maps Chrome extension.

Our satellite imagery came from Planet, and the images for the sliders came from DigitalGlobe. The sliders were made using an in-house BBC tool.

Technologies Used

The visualisations involved QGIS mapping software, Microsoft Excel, Adobe Illustrator and two in-house tools – the Google Maps Chrome extension and the slider maker.

The Simple Framework process involved using a script to download and parse the spreadsheet as Handlebars templates and SASS, which were then compiled into HTML, CSS and JavaScript.

Project members

Lucy Rogers, Nassos Stylianou, Daniel Dunford, Joy Roxas, Rosie Gallancz


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