Monday, February 27, 2012

The challenges of breaking news infographics

The other day I recovered an old article of mine on infographics in times of war. In this post, I would like to relink another one about what's acceptable (and unacceptable) to include in a visual reconstruction of a news story. It is titled 'What Should You Show in a Graphic?', and it was also published by Design, the magazine of the Society for News Design, a few years ago.

Breaking news information graphics have always been a big concern of mine. Even more so now, that I am doing quite a lot of reading on the ethics of visuals in communication, science, and engineering (more about this in the next few months). When Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan, too many infographics of dubious quality, full of eye-candy and fictitious details, were published around the world. That prompted me and my colleague Juan Antonio Giner, a well known media consultant, to write a short manifesto for the Nieman Watchdog website of Harvard University. VisualJournalism has a pretty comprehensive selection of the kind of graphics we saw after the killing.

The main lesson in my old article is easy to remember, and so deeply rooted in classic journalistic principles that it's embarrassing to be forced to remind it to people over and over again: what you don't know, you don't show. Or: you need to have at least one source for every element in the reconstruction of a breaking news story, such as a shooting, a terrorist attack, an accident, or a natural catastrophe. That's it. It's that easy.

Download 'What Should You Show in a Graphic'?