The New York Times has an interesting graphic today charting the late Michael Jackson's musical career. The chart superposes the Billboard rankings of each of his hits over time as sparklines, and compares his output to that of The Beatles, U2, Mariah Carey, Usher and, perplexingly, Boyz II Men.
It's a nicely done chart, but what impresses me the most was the speed at which they put it out. (According to the dateline, it was published yesterday, hours after Jackson's death.) Either the NYT graphics department has applied the obituary model to quantitative graphics and has a chart like this cued up for every pop star, or they have some very powerful software and rich data stores. (I guess when Madonna gets hit by a bus we'll know the answer.)
Update: Well, we have an answer. The NYT does have powerful software to create its graphics: R! Amanda Cox, a graphics editor at the Times (and collaborator on the MJ graphic), emailed me with the news:
I saw your blog post on the Michael Jackson chart in the New York Times today.
I thought it might amuse you to know that the charts were made in R.
(Then cleaned up in Illustrator and moved into Flash, but they started life in R.)
Thanks, Amanda! I've admired the NYT's amazing graphics for some time, but never knew R was involved. Count this as another example where R's power and rapid development lends itself to analysis of breaking news events.