FAQ: Integrating graphics into a newsroom

Graphics need to be integrated at multiple levels in a newsroom because, although they are visual like pictures, they also contain words which tell a story. They are also scarce relative to stories and pictures, and relate to particular stories, so it is important that the page editors that decide what stories to publish know what graphics are available.

To encourage the use of graphics: -

  1. Recruit a graphics “Champion”: Someone in a senior editorial position is needed who is visually aware and appreciates the benefits of using graphics and the time and resources required to produce them.
  2. Use multiple sources of graphics: Don’t just think in terms of “an artist” or “a service”. You need both. You should also consider commissioning graphics from specialist artists, not only to give a variety of artistic style on your pages, but to support your in-house team if they by themselves can't meet the deadline for a project.
  3. Make information about graphics available to everyone: Monitoring what graphics are available is a more successful strategy than searching for a particular graphic after a story is written (as you would a picture). This is because there are thousands of pictures for every graphic, and because the words on a graphic relate to specific events. So any editor can monitor graphics as they become available, Graphic News offers visuals and information about graphics that can go into a publishers content management system, and alerts that can go directly to any editors that are interested (by email, rss or twitter). The Graphic News website is also open so that any editor (even without a UserName) can search the archive and see what is available.
    • The Graphic Editor needs to know what graphics are available, or are being prepared, when they go to the morning editorial conference.
    • The graphics team needs to be aware of what graphics are available so that if an editor requests a specific graphic they know what is available or could be modified to meet the deadline.
    • Web editors need to know what is available if they want to select graphics and publish them as soon as they are available (for example using the embed option offered by Graphic News), producing a short story linking to and from other web pages on the same topic.
    • Other editors, seeing a graphic might suggest stories they might not otherwise have considered, or prompt them to think of other graphic possibilities.
    • An editor might also, knowing the information available in a graphic, use this in their story (even if they didn’t use the graphic itself), or alternatively they could use the graphic to give the basic background so their story could give a more considered discussion.
    • Seeing graphics can encourage editors to “think” graphics when they are deciding what stories they want to cover. If they wait until a story is written it will probably be too late to produce a new graphic to complement the story or prepare a pre-existing graphic for publication.
    • Seeing a graphic as it is released can prompt recall at a later date.
  4. Build mutual understanding between graphics and the other newsroom teams: Graphic artists and writers come into the industry with totally different backgrounds. Artists are more comfortable communicating visually, whereas reporters/editors find it easier to work with words. They need to work together to learn mutual understanding and respect.
    • Encourage your Graphics Editor to bridge the gap: Within a newsroom the graphics editor needs to be an ambassador making graphics part of the news cycle. They need to be proactive and should attend morning conference (or the equivalent news meetings) to identify and suggest opportunities for graphics. Some graphic editors are artists that have acquired journalistic skills and can communicate with “words” journalists; others are journalists who have developed an understanding and appreciation of graphics and artists. It is imperative that the graphics editor has authority to make visual decisions and allocate resources accordingly.
    • Give training to both journalists and graphic artists Seconding young journalists for a period to the graphics team can be useful, as can joint training programs which give journalists an understanding of the benefits of using graphics and what information is required, and graphic artists an understanding of news and journalism. It can also be useful to send artists on assignments with journalists and photographers not only to improve the visual quality of the graphics but it can also promote mutual understanding.
  5. Give your in-house graphics team the resources they need:
    • Recruit bright artists and designers with initiative and creative skills and give them the same pay, working conditions and status as they would obtain in an advertising or creative agency. Give them the time needed to develop those creative skills and keep abreast of new developments in their own field. Give them the time and encouragement to learn the journalistic skills needed for a career in the news industry.
    • Co-opt a journalist or researcher: As research accounts for a substantial amount of the time needed to produce graphics, and these skills are not normally taught at art school, it can help productivity if a "researcher" is available to the graphics team. The researcher can also help with the wording of the captions and make sure the graphics are not only intelligible but have correct spelling and punctuation. We have found some reporters are excellent in this role.
    • Don’t expect the graphics team to do translation: If graphics are available from outside sources, and the words need translating or editing, this can be done by an editor or translator with minimal knowledge of Illustrator or Adobe Edge Animate. Don’t leave this job to your artists as “words” are not always their forte, and so their time would be better spent (and they would undoubtedly prefer) to produce their own graphics.
    • Subscribe to a service such as Graphic News: Skilled graphic journalists are a scarce resource. It makes sense to use "ready-made" graphics, or modify these, so your own team can spend time on the stories that are specific to your needs.
  6. Encourage your staff to contact Graphic News directly: Using pictures and text needs minimal technical support from the agencies supplying them. This can not be said for graphics. Encourage your artists and editors to contact Graphic News for technical help or with editorial questions, for example: Where did the information in a graphic come from? Are you producing a graphic on a particular topic? When will a graphic be available? This direct contact not only encourages the use of graphics, but gives Graphic News the feedback they need for the service to evolve in a rapidly changing world.
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FAQ: Why subscribe if you have your own artists
FAQ: How the service can be used as a resource by your artists

21 days to go until NEW GRAPHIC NEWS - a new website for a new era.

28 years ago — April 2, 1991 — the original Graphic News launched using a precursor to today’s websites that used email technology. These enabled infographics to be delivered electronically around the world over telephone lines. What was possible was very limited - It took 10 minutes for a 100K file to download.

Since then delivery speeds and website technology have moved on. The new website will offer the best online experience possible now, adding many new features (and offering new opportunities for the future), but still enabling existing users to select and download infographics and enjoy the distinct brand of visual journalism that is Graphic News.

Over the coming days I will give further information. Please contact me if you have any questions. Fiona Roberts, froberts @ graphicnews.com