Articles about "Visual journalism"


Tips for Storytellers: Creating an online portfolio

The key to getting a great job or internship is showing what you can do. An online portfolio is the new norm for a crucial first impression. Here are a few ideas, part of a series of graphics with tips for storytellers. Next Friday: How to sharpen your personal brand with social media.

Poynter Quinn-fo-graphics: Tips for online portfolios

For a PDF: Poynter Quinn-fo-graphics: Tips for creating an online portfolio

Related: How to make photos better | How to polish your writing | How to make the most of your tweets | How to get your video right Read more


With ‘Shark and Minnow,’ New York Times tried to keep readers scrolling

Scroll down the page on “A Game of Shark and Minnow,” Jeff Himmelman’s New York Times Magazine story about a disputed region in the South China Sea, and you may notice something the story doesn’t ask you to do: Stop.

That was the whole idea, Times Associate Managing Editor Steven Duenes, who directs the Times’ graphics, says in a phone call with Poynter. The crew that worked the most on the presentation — Mike Bostock, Shan Carter, Xaquín G.V. and Nancy Donaldson — were trying to marry Himmelman’s story and Ashley Gilbertson’s photographs and videos in a way that felt “more like what the normal experience of the Web is: The users’ ability to scroll through a a series of images, to have the images do the explanatory work.”

You’re not stopping for three minutes to watch a video, Duenes said. Gilbertson’s animated clips — not GIFs, he said — aren’t videos “where you hit play and sit back and watch. What we’re hoping to do is keep people in an active mode. These are videos that you read and you scroll through.” Think of them as “moving stills,” Duenes said.

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Why rainbow colors aren’t the best option for data visualizations

Data visualizations are beautiful, exciting ways to tell stories. But you have to choose carefully in designing a map or chart, and one of the biggest mistakes is misusing rainbow colors.

Rainbow color schemes — also called spectral color schemes — are frequent choices for visualizing data, both because they look bold and exciting and because they’re the default for many visualization software tools. But they usually do more harm than good. Detecting the colors at all is a problem for more readers than you might guess, and the rest of the audience will find it easier to understand the visualization if it’s presented with a different palette.

Rainbow color schemes are “almost always the wrong choice,” Anthony C. Robinson, geography professor at Pennsylvia State University, wrote in an online class on Coursera, which taught students how to use geospatial technologies to map data.

Here are some reasons why rainbow colors are the “wrong choice”:

Colorblindness and ordering colors

People who are colorblind have difficulties detecting colors, particularly red and green. (Try this color vision test to see if you’re one of them.) Colorblindness affects up to 10 percent of men. That means if you’re serving up visuals to an audience of hundreds of thousands, you’re missing out on a large slice of your audience.

Even though most people aren’t colorblind, rainbow color schemes can be confusing because there’s no clear “greater than” or “less than” logic to ordering the colors, warn computer science researchers David Borland and Russell M. Taylor II. People generally agree on the progression from light to dark, but sort colors differently, as shown here:

“If people are given a series of gray paint chips and asked to put them in order, they will consistently place them in either a dark-to-light or light-to-dark order. However, if people are given paint chips colored red, green, yellow, and blue and asked to put them in order, the results vary,” according to researchers David Borland and Russell M. Taylor II, professor of computer science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Changes can be hard to see

Visualizations tell the story behind changes in data; their job is to simplify complex patterns into an illustration that lets you understand — ideally at a glance — what’s going on. But human eyes aren’t good at detecting the edges of different colors sitting side by side. We’re better at seeing small changes within single color ranges because luminance and saturation values change smoothly where colors do not, wrote Robert Kosara, visual analysis researcher at Tableau and an expert on how we see color, on his personal website, EagerEyes.

The details get technical very quickly, but the key lesson is rainbow colors only show differences when the actual color changes, while color gradients allow people to see gradual changes.

Your audience is going to struggle to tell the nuances apart if you use rainbow colors rather than sticking to a graduated scale of one color.

Misleading conclusions

Depending on your audience, the wrong choice can have serious consequences. In a Harvard study, researchers found 2-D diagrams of heart arteries that used a gradient from black to red were more effective tools for doctors making diagnoses than 3-D models using rainbow colors. Clinical studies showed the diagrams that used a gradient increased the accuracy of doctors’ diagnoses of atherosclerosis and heart disease from 39 percent to 91 percent.

A comparison of the effectiveness of 2-D arterial diagrams with black to red gradients and 3-D rainbow-colored models. (Images: Michelle Borkin / Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Not every data visualization is used in making critical medical calls, but rainbow colors may mislead when journalists use them to incorrectly show quantitative data.

“Rainbow colors are not bad if you’re using them for categorical data,” Drew Skau, visualization architect at, told Poynter in a video interview. “They’re bad if you use them to represent continuous data.”

What’s the difference? Continuous data is quantitative and described by numbers; categorical data is qualitative and described by words. For example, compare these groupings:

  • Exotic pets: chinchilla, ocelot, scorpions, hissing cockroaches, pythons
  • Temperature in Fahrenheit: -459.67°F, 32°F, 212°F
  • Electoral votes during elections: 206, 270, 332

The exotic pets are related to each other, but not continuous — you can’t measure the difference between a chinchilla and an ocelot. The temperature readings, on the other hand, are continuous — they’re numbers on a scale with measurable distances.

Electoral votes are continuous data, but they’re also divergent. We want to know what the mid point is (270 electoral votes) because whoever receives more than 50 percent of the votes wins. Thus, the data visualization usually shows blue to represent Democrats on one end and red for Republicans on the other end, which is the ideal way to represent divergent data.

This exercise from Robinson shows how spectral colors make it much harder to tell the difference in volume of tweets (which is quantitative data) during the 2012 presidential elections:

This map shows the volume of Obama and Romney tweets from the 2012 presidential elections, using spectral colors.
(Image: Dr. Anthony C. Robinson / Penn State)
Here’s the same map, but Robinson has changed the rainbow colors to a single hue (purple) with varying saturation.
(Image: Dr. Anthony C. Robinson / Penn State)

But rainbow colors are often used to illustrate quantitative data, even by NASA scientists. Academics have urged the scientific community to stop using spectral colors, and scientists and engineers are worried about the accuracy of color use. As journalists, we can learn from both the research and the arguments.

Help from the experts

Many data experts have built useful tools to help you pick colors:

  • ColorBrewer by Cynthia Brewer, Mark Harrower and Penn State helps you design color palettes for maps; you can choose the number of data items, the type of data, and even colorblind-safe colors.
  • Color Tool, created by former NASA researchers, offers a professional-grade app for complex infographics and aeronautical displays.
  • Adobe’s Kuler is a slick color wheel that offers color schemes.
  • Poynter’s NewsU’s digital tools catalog has a range of tools with which you can get started visualizing data.

Colors are wonderful — in researching this article, I discovered things about them I never knew, such as the fact that yellow is the brightest color of the rainbow and that people who speak other languages may see colors English speakers can’t. Colors help make visualizations exciting, but a few wise color choices can ensure those visualizations are more importantly informative. Read more

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Twitter research shows how multimedia increases engagement

To update an old saying for the Twitter era: A picture is worth a thousand characters.

Research by Twitter shows that tweets that include a photo or video receive 3 to 4 times more engagement (retweets, replies, etc.) than those that don’t. Read more


Use of generic photos can be dangerous for illustrating news stories

Maybe you have a Web CMS that requires an image to be associated with some stories. Maybe you just need some kind of image, any image, to color an otherwise gray slate of text.

Whatever the reason, many news websites make use of generic images — either purchased stock images or reused file photos — to illustrate articles.

Sometimes it’s pretty obvious that such an image is a posed stock photo. That picture of a cat lounging in fancy clothes with a gold chain, hundred-dollar bills and caviar is probably not going to be mistaken for a documentary news photo.

But others, like a gun or crime-scene tape, can be ambiguous when placed in a related news story.

That’s a problem ABC 17 in Columbia, Mo., has had for the last few years. Many stories about car crashes use the same generic photo of a smashed-up sedan. Likewise with stories about shootings carrying a generic picture of a handgun and shell casings lying on pavement.

Those photos are realistic and relevant enough for a reader to think they’re actually showing the news event in question. And the lack of photo captions or credits leaves the reader at best uncertain.

Similar repeated images are used on stories about fires, robberies, trials, drugs, schools, and so on.

That image of a robbery in progress is actually unrelated to the liquor store robbery the article describes. But the reader wouldn’t know that.

“The use of stock photography without any photographic attribution of obvious credit is a very misleading practice that contributes to the public/audience mistrust of the media,” Poynter senior faculty for visual journalism Kenny Irby told me. “What they are doing is inaccurate, and while it may be seen as the expedient thing to do for immediate visual representation, the long-term impact on credibility is much worse in my view.”

KMIZ News Director Curtis Varns told me “the stock image issue is a concern we do think about. We’re not happy with it.”

“We’ve used these stock photos on stories since we launched our current website a little more than two years ago,” Varns said. “The images are used when we’re not able to provide specific story-related photos. During that time, I have fielded questions from a few readers about this topic. I quickly realized the way the photos were displayed was not ideal but the most we’ve been able to do as an organization is try to minimize their usage.”

The web CMS prevents the station from removing the generic photos, and does not allow them to add captions or explanations to the photos, Varns said. That should be fixed in the next two months.

KMIZ’s use of stock and file photos may be more extreme than you’d usually see on news websites using generic photos. But any ambiguity about the origin and contents of an image can potentially mislead readers.

“The best practice that I have advocated and taught is to offer immediate visual disclosure that the image or photograph is an ‘illustration’ and not authentic photographic reportage,” Irby said. “The viewing public is far more discerning and aware of visual untruths and fabrications today, which is all the more reason for media companies to be transparent about their visual decisions.”

Many news organizations are in greater danger these days of getting sloppy with their choice and labeling of images, he noted. “A casualty of the downturn in the economy and the mass downsizing of newsrooms is the picture editor role. Thus, almost all TV news websites and newer online entities are lacking individuals with expertise in the area of photographic research, reporting and editing.”

If you have to use a generic image with a story, consider looking for one that won’t be confused for a real news photo. Choose an illustration or a visual metaphor that emphasizes a theme of the story but is not realistic. And of course, label it as such. Read more

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In matchup between NY, New England, no clear winner for Super Bowl front pages

Monday morning quarterbacks will have little to debate about the New York Giants’ victory over the New England Patriots in Sunday’s Super Bowl. (And for those who don’t care, here are all of the Super Bowl XLVI commercials, in order of appearance.) The front pages in New York and New England are less exciting than the game, but a few capture its spirit. Some pages have been cropped, and all pages appear courtesy of the Newseum. || Related: How Super Bowl looked on Twitter || Previously: How Indy Star plans to enhance Super Bowl coverage with visuals

This photo of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady appeared on multiple front pages.
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Architecture student creates jigsaw puzzle to illustrate Chicago’s confusing ward lines | Irresponsible Architecture

Architecture student Andrew Bayley came up with an illustration of Chicago’s confusing political districts that any graphic artist or political journalist would be proud of: a jigsaw puzzle, with one piece for each of the city’s 50 wards.

Chicago’s wards, literally pieces of a puzzle. (Image used with permission.)

“Just because I have chosen to focus on this pursuit professionally,” he wrote, “does not mean I pay no attention to other things that affect us urban dwellers.” Read more


Pennsylvania’s front pages pay tribute to Joe Paterno

Front pages in Pennsylvania featured Joe Paterno on Monday, with dominant photos and tributes to the former Penn State coach who died over the weekend. Several of the papers played on the Nittany Lions team name, with headlines such as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” “Lion at Rest,” and “When Lions Weep.” Others simply said, “Farewell, Coach.The full collection is available at the Newseum. A selection appears below. || | Previously: False Paterno death reports highlight journalists’ hunger for glory | How false reports of Joe Paterno’s death were spread and debunked (Poynter)

The Daily News used an archival photo of Paterno from his early coaching days. (Front page appears courtesy of the Newseum)
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New Time magazine cover mirrors previous Romney coverage

The latest issue of Time magazine, hitting newsstands today, echoes an earlier Mitt Romney cover to revisit ongoing questions about the candidate’s popularity.

“If this week’s cover feels a little familiar, there’s good reason for that,” writes managing editor Rick Stengel in a letter to readers. “In early December, we put Mitt Romney on the cover and asked, “Why Don’t They Like Me?“—a question that has been at the heart of the GOP primary process.

“This week, in the wake of Romney’s razor-thin win in Iowa, we’ve updated and revised the question, using the other half of the same portrait of Romney. The first cover got a lot of attention, not least from Governor Romney himself, who began annotating the cover for those who asked him to sign it.”

The January 16, 2012 cover of Time magazine (right) echoes the magazine’s December 12, 2011 cover (left) with an image taken from the same photo.
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Graphic designers mourn passing of NYT’s Louis Silverstein

Society for News Design | ImprintThe New York Times
In a 2004 essay (which SND republished Friday) Phil Ritzenberg wrote that former New York Times art director Louis Silverstein, who died Thursday, “helped pave the way for newspaper designers to be valued as participants in newspaper journalism, even at tradition-bound institutions, and to help silence the tedious debate about art people versus word people.” Charles Apple writes, “You’d be amazed at the list of things we accept today as standard features of print newspapers that Silverstein invented over his decades at the Times.” Among the many bits of journo-trivia in the Times’ obit is this fact: Silverstein dropped the period from Times’ nameplate in 1967, saving the newspaper $45 a year in ink. Read more

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