A New Telling: Mainstream Acceptance of Data Journalism
- 10 May 2012 by laila 0 Comments
All media outlets have embraced data journalism and either have infographic designers on staff, in-residence or have hired infographic design companies to create newsy infographics for them. Why? It’s the ease of understanding, baby!
Just because we are in the Age of Information does not mean that we are able to process all of the information we receive everyday; be it from television, print, online, mobile, etc. Our cars are even talking to us these days. These things that have been created to make our lives easier have made it so much more complex.
The world has become a very small place. Globalization is as much as a consciousness of people and events around the world as it is corporate movement. The first time I watched Headline News’ “Around The World in 30 Minutes” in the late 80s, I felt depressed. Not major lie-in-bed-all-day depression, but the mild depression that comes from feeling overwhelmed by too much information. The modern buzz phrase for this feeling is “drinking from the fire hose” — being forced to take in more than is humanly possible. My antidote to this feeling was to emotionally detach from the stories. Watching a news snippet like “scientists say new infection could potentially wipe-out human race … back in a minute” and then cut to an innocuous cheesy commercial made me feel emotionally confused and ambivalent. For self-preservation, I learned to tune it out.
We have come a long way since the 80s and our brains have learned to tune out much of the sensory and information overload thrown at us daily. I now operate on a “need to know” basis (certainly complicated by having children) but I still have natural curiosity. I still want to know what is happening in the world I have bred in and where I should take action if we, collectively, need to in order to protect our health, our freedoms and the budding dreams of our children.
Enter the beautiful and data-rich infographic crafted by a data journalist to allow me to understand news stories in ways I never thought possible — devoid of sentimentality and emotional manipulation. A data journalistic infographic provides me with a story based on information and enhanced by graphics that genuinely moves me in the way news should: by making the connection between finite understanding (numbers/data/statistics) and humanity.
Ways Data Journalism Enriches the News
Builds Context. A Data Journalist can take information in the form of data and statistics and create context. Couched by an infographic, I can better understand the complexity of the story and feel like I have actually learned something.
CNN Infographic courtesy of www.infographics.com
Breaks the Boundaries of Traditional Storytelling. Data alone does not tell a story. It sits on a page or in a program or application waiting, like a bridesmaid, for its day to come. It is the journalist-part of data journalism that transforms the data into a story. Remember the movie The Matrix? In that film, the virtual reality created by machines only looked like code from the outside. It took rebel humans who understood the code to “see” the world created by The Matrix.
In that same way, a data journalist can see the news story in raw statistics/information/data and then can decide how the story is best told to us.
Provides Information Without Overwhelming the Viewer. A good news story infographic will not give you the “drinking from the fire hose” feeling, but will teach you,by presenting a natural data flow, solid numbers from reliable sources and eye-catching graphics. And, because the information is so easily digestible, an infographic can explore depths that traditional news stories, even featured magazine stories, can’t reach without losing the attention of the viewer/reader.
A journalistic infographic can be used as a complementary element of a news story or as the story itself – like the infographic below State of the Green Economy created by Infoglyphs for the Toronto Star:
Take, for example, the below inforgraphic created by Tommy McCall of infographics.com for the MIT Technology Review. The amount of text it would take to explore how the US Recovery Act’s technology funding succeeded by sector, amount, and location as well as draw conclusions would be immense and, let’s face it, pretty dry. Take that data and create a colourful infographic and, we are not only drawn in by the graphic appeal and the over-all “gist” of the infographic, but we then spend time viewing the comparisons. Then we can draw the conclusions the data provides in ways we never could before.
This is because a data journalist saw the story in the raw data the same way the rebel humans could “see” the Matrix in the code.
BELOW Check out Tommy McCall’s (infographics.com) take on human communication in his talk “Literacy, Numeracy, Graphicacy” for TEDx East. May 9, 2011 at the NY Times Center.