Articles about "Visual journalism"

People are tired of bad infographics, so make good ones

Smashing Magazine | Gizmodo | How Interactive Design
The Internet fell in love with giant infographics for a while, but now a backlash is building. Jesus Diaz at Gizmodo pleads with us all to “Stop Already With [Freaking] Infographics“:

Over the last year, the explosion of these abominations called “infographics” has gotten overwhelming. The number of design-deficient morons making these is so ridiculous that you can fill an island with them. I’d do that. And then nuke it.

The fact is that these monstrosities are not infographics. These atrocities are crimes against good taste and everything that infographics really should be.

Grace Dobush raises some specific objections, including that infographics aren’t search-engine optimized, are often unreadable on smartphones and are inaccessible to the visually impaired. Today, Amy Balliett of Smashing Magazine offers a detailed walkthrough of “The Do’s And Don’ts Of Infographic Design.”

A few “show, don’t tell” tips:

  • Go beyond bar graphs and pie charts. Make something unique.
  • Typography should not be a crutch. Don’t just use big type or fancy fonts to show off numbers. Visualize the data.
  • Do use smart typography for eye-catching titles and headings.

When it comes time to actually build a graphic:

  • Give yourself at least an hour to wireframe, sketch and plan the structure.
  • Try to avoid the vertical-scrolling, single-column layout by structuring your sections differently.
  • Tell a story (beginning, middle and end).
  • Plan the “hook” the dominant visual element that will catch the eye and be most memorable.

Related: NYT developer: Word clouds are bad data journalism Read more


iHeaven? Try iBuddhist; editorial cartoonists imagine Christian afterlife for Steve Jobs

The Cagle Post | ABC News
Daryl Cagle writes that all those cartoons portraying Steve Jobs in heaven are ironic, considering he was influenced so much by Buddhism: “We often see editorial cartoonists imposing Christian imagery on non-Christians when they die. (After all, only one religion can be right, huh?) Comedian George Carlin, a famous atheist, found a Christian heaven in many editorial cartoons. When Beatle George Harrison, a Hindu, died, the editorial cartoonists drew dozens of cartoons with George showing up in Christian heaven.” Cartoons portraying Jobs in heaven were the most popular among the ones Cagle syndicates; he published several of them on his blog. || Related: Commenters criticize The New Yorker for its cover portraying Saint Peter checking Steve Jobs into heaven with an iPad. Read more


Idaho newspaper publishes prominent fact-check of senator’s press release

The Visual Side of Journalism
The Times-News of Twin Falls, Idaho ran a full-page illustration on its Sunday opinion section front that fact-checked, point-by-point, a press release from Republican Senator Mike Crapo.

This page appeared as a section front on the Sunday, Oct. 9 opinion section.

The newspaper tells readers that it gets dozens of press releases every day; before publishing them, “we also like to check all releases for both spin and accuracy before we publish them.” In this release, Crapo’s office announced legislation to cap the capital gains and dividend tax rate. The newspaper says the release’s description of a “guaranteed” tax from the health care overhaul is a “half truth” because most people will never pay it. Crapo’s office uses percentage increase figures that “sound pretty scary,” one of which is calculated by assuming the highest tax rates, which don’t apply to most people. And the release throws in a reference to farmers and ranchers that seems like a “heavy-handed way to pander to rural Idahoans” who generally aren’t subject to the tax. The newspaper concludes that although the release is factual, “the data is also spun harder than it should be,” and it calls on politicians to avoid “the most hyperbolic of methods to crunch statistics.” || Related: PolitiFact asks its readers: Should ‘Barely True’ rating be changed to ‘Mostly False’? Read more


Data visualization ‘on another level’ compared to a few years ago

Wilson Andrews, The Washington Post’s information designer, discusses his data visualizations and the progress of the field in a Forbes interview. “The kinds of graphics that are now being done, especially online, are on another level than what was being produced several years ago,” he says. “Long form journalism is just as important as it ever was, but often long form pieces are greatly enhanced by smart and clear data visualization.” He says that he starts with the simplest possible design, only adding movement and interactive elements if they will help people understand the information. Examples of his work are in the interview. Related: WNYC’s John Keefe finished up his New York evacuation map as he rode the subway to work last week. Read more


Design firm Pentagram shows its signs of the (New York) Times

The design firm Pentagram notes that the documentary “Page One” features its work — some of the 800 or so unusual signs that mark everything from conference rooms to bathrooms at The New York Times. In order to “reinforce the unique Times culture through as many details as possible … every public room sign bears a different image culled from the paper’s immense photographic archive.” Designers and Times archivists picked historic images, “and the designers selected images that wittily correlate to the function of each room.” The full post has plenty of clever pairings of room functions and images, such as this:

Pentagram designers worked with Times archivists to select images that matched the function of rooms in the Times building. Pentagram also designed the sign on the Times building’s Eighth Avenue facade.
Read more

What tools can journalists use to improve their visual storytelling skills?

In this week’s career chat, we talked with Wasim Ahmad, an assistant professor of journalism at Stony Brook University. Ahmad has been an copy editor, photographer, Web editor and content producer, and he started Journographica — a site where he posts tips about visual journalism.

During the chat, Ahmad talked about several tools that all journalists can use to improve their visual storytelling skills. He answered chat participants’ questions about the tools he described and talked about how these tools relate to some of the latest trends in visual journalism.

You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat.

<a href=”″ mce_href=”″ >What tools can journalists use to make stories more visual?</a> Read more

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How to make searchable, Web-based Google charts

A lot of data visualization requires the technical expertise of a programmer and skills that take time and resources to develop.

A rise in free tools, however, has made it easier to make interactive graphs in charts, whether you’re a designer, developer, Web producer or hobbyist. The Google Visualization API, for instance, gives you options without making the work too complicated.

I’ve created a tutorial below to help you make simple, Web-based Google charts. (You can click on any of the screenshots to go to a larger version.) In the first example, we’ll craft an interactive bar chart that compares the numbers of tornado-related deaths in the United States throughout the past four years.

We’ll use data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which can be found here. (You can download a cleaned version of this data here, formatted as a comma-delimited file, CSV.)

1. In a new window or tab, visit the Google Visualization API homepage. Select Bar Chart.

2. Just above the sample code, you’ll see a line of text with a link to the Google Visualization API playground. Click on it, or click here.

3. Now, you’ll see code you can adjust. Put the label for units of measurement in your y axis (going up) on lines 11 and 32, and the label for your x axis (going across) in line 33. Change the “raw_data” in lines 4-7, so instead of being labeled with countries, they are labeled with “April,” “May” and “Whole Year” — to mark that we have a series of information showing how many deaths occurred in a given year for that amount of time.

4. Change the “years” in line nine, so it reflects data spanning 2008-2011.

Fill in your series, starting with line four in “raw_data.” Delete any extra numbers at the end of each line. Since we have so few numbers, we’ll do it by hand here. If you had a larger data set, open your CSV in TextEdit or Notepad, and use a find/replace function to format each line so it matches the format in the screenshot below.

Now would be a good time to click the Run Code button, which lets you preview how your chart looks graphically. Your graph may come up blank if there’s an error. (You might have six numbers listed for April, but only four different years where you listed the years, for example.)

5. All that’s left is formatting the graph. This part starts on what I have as line 29, but it may be slightly lower or higher for you depending on changes you’ve made.

Below, I chose to adjust the title, width and height, and I added the titleTextStyle line to increase the font size. There are also other options you can choose, such as changing the position of the legend (or eliminating it altogether), and changing colors of the bars. You can click View Docs to see a full list of your options.

One other parameter you may want to turn on or off is Tooltip, which displays the axis name, and exact number, when a user hovers his or her mouse over an individual bar.

When you’re happy, press the Run Code button and check to see if you like the finished product.

6. Finally, press Save, then View Source on the resulting Web page, and copy and paste that code into your CMS.

(If you have difficulty doing this, talk to your CMS developer about the ability to include JavaScript in your stories. Locked-down versions of WordPress can be especially picky.) You can see a final, interactive product here.

If you want further instruction and more thorough explanations of the steps I outlined, you can watch the video tutorial I created. The video is easiest to view when you expand it to full screen.

Here are a few related questions and answers to keep in mind as you make Google charts.

Why can’t I just use Excel charts, Photoshop or Illustrator?

It’s important to use graphic tools that are “of the Web.” That means they’re designed specifically for use on the Web, allowing for more interactivity. There’s a lot you lose out on when print tools are repurposed.

The actual data in your graph is embedded in a Web page’s code. This makes it easier to search for your graph because numbers, labels and even your graph’s title become part of your Web page’s metadata. Selecting well-chosen words for your graph helps make it more SEO-friendly.

Graphics of the Web work across platforms. The resolution of images doesn’t appear as grainy on the iPhone, for instance, and folks on mobile devices can zoom and interact with graphics of the Web more naturally.

What other options are there?

When it comes to creating graphs that are “of the Web,” some tools are easier to use, but less customizable. If you want your graph to be more customizable, you’re going to need a bit more technical knowledge.

If you don’t want to do any coding, I recommend looking into ManyEyes, which lets you upload data and provides different types of options for displaying text- or numbers-based data.

If you want really robust customization, use the JavaScript libraries Protovis and Flot, which are each useful for distinct reasons. If you want your graph to be the focal point of an interactive, go with Flot. If you want to do many small multiples, or if the graph is a side component of your piece, go with Protovis.

What if I want to create something other than a bar chart?

If you stick to the Google world, there are many other different types of graphs and charts you can make through the Google Visualization API.

Also, if you’re interested in making static charts as images, there’s a similar Google product called Google Image Charts. (But remember, static charts won’t help you get better search results.)

The best way to learn what tools are out there, and how to make them work, is to just start making charts. You might be surprised by how many of the concepts above apply to different situations. Read more


Beginner’s guide to using Photoshop in your newsroom

As an online editor at the Lawrence Journal World, part of my job is to constantly expand and adjust my skill set. I’m always looking for new tricks or technologies to learn and use in our news coverage. Until recently, my Photoshop skills were pretty poor. I could crop or make minor size adjustments to images, but found myself frustrated if I wanted to do something more advanced.

Rather than rely on someone else, I started taking online classes through a local community college and have used my new skills on a daily basis. Here are a few of the tips I’ve found most helpful when it comes to editing and adding images online. (For reference, I’m working in CS5. If you’re working in a different version, some of the options may not be available.)

Crop to exact sizes
It’s common for photos to need to fit a specific size in your CMS so that they don’t end up stretched or squished, or throw off the page display. For example, I often have to crop photos to pixel dimensions of 900 x 400 or 340 x 430. Using Photoshop’s crop tool presets will save you some time.

1. Open the image in Photoshop.

2. Select the crop tool from the tools panel on the left. If you can’t see the tools panel go to Window > Tools to make it appear.

3. In the tool options bar, you’ll see three fields where you can input numbers: width, height and resolution. Set the width and height to your required dimensions. (For this example, we’re using 320 x 240 pixels.) Make sure you type “320 px” and “240 px” so Photoshop knows you want pixels (not inches, which would create a giant image).

Leave the resolution at 72 pixels/inch. That’s a good resolution for the Web. If you’re printing an image, you want a much higher resolution like 300 pixels/inch. Keep in mind that the higher an image’s resolution, the longer it takes for your website visitors to download. If you’re sharing photo files with the copy desk (and your CMS doesn’t automatically compress images for you), you’ll want to upload images with a lower resolution.

4. With the settings in place, click and drag across the image. You’ll see a box with constrained proportions on the image.

5. Adjust the box until what is inside the box is your desired result. Hit Enter or click the crop tool in the tools panel. Your new image resizes and crops itself to 320 x 240 pixels.

6. Save a new image (so you don’t ruin the original) as a JPEG.

Extra tips:

  • You can use this method to increase the size of small images, but don’t expect a great outcome. Often, trying to blow up tiny images results in grainy, blurry pictures.
  • Photoshop usually saves these settings for you, so the next time you use the crop tool it will be ready to go with the previous dimensions. If you want to remove the settings, just delete the numbers in the Width and Height field.

Using selection tools to highlight
There are times when you may want to highlight a specific area of an image, be it a chunk of text or an area of a photo. The rectangular and elliptical marquee combined with an adjusted fill layer can help you accomplish that.

1. Open the image in Photoshop.

2. Select either the rectangular or elliptical marquee.

3. Click and drag the marquee over the area you want to highlight.

4. Now you have to invert the selection. Currently, the area selected inside the moving track will be affected by future changes. We want the area outside the selection to be affected. To invert the selection, go to Select > Inverse. You’ll see a moving track appear around the border of the image.

5. Make sure the foreground color is set to black by clicking on the tile and moving the color selector to the black corner of the color palette. Then go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color. You can name the layer if you want, but you don’t have to. Click OK if prompted. A black layer appears outside your selection.

6. You need to adjust the opacity of the Fill Layer so you can see the rest of the image, but the selected area remains highlighted. In the Layers panel (usually on the right side) make sure the Fill Layer is selected. Then click the opacity slider and select a setting between 50 and 60 percent. If you don’t see the Layers panel, go to Window > Layers.

7. Save a new image (so you don’t ruin the original) as a JPEG.

Spot healing
Sometimes you may need to make a cosmetic change to a story. I ran into this recently with a photo of a parking ticket, in which the ticket clearly displayed the make, model, license plate number of the car and ticket number. Using the spot healing brush and clone stamp, I got rid of the numbers and was able to post the image.

In this example, we’ll use spot healing to remove a time/date stamp from an image.

1. Open the image in Photoshop. Select the zoom tool (the magnifying glass) from the tools panel and zoom in on the area you want to change.

2. Select the spot healing brush from the tools panel. The spot healing brush is great, because it doesn’t need a sample area to draw from in order to make corrections (a similar tool, the healing brush, requires a sample from the image in order to work properly). Change the brush size in the options bar to reflect the size of the area you want to change.

3. Click and drag the brush over the area you want to heal.

4. Work your way across the area until healing is complete.

5. Spot healing works best on areas that are not surrounded by a lot of sharp, complex edges. In that case, try using the clone stamp tool, which lets you sample and clone specific pixels in an image. Not getting the results you want? Try adjusting the size of the brush to see how it influences the area you’re healing or cloning.

Do you have additional good tips to share? Leave them in the comments or send them my way: Read more


How to make a heat map in Google Fusion Tables

Online journalists are well aware of how important data can be to stories. But how do we give visual context to raw information without an army of developers at our disposal?

If the data has been normalized and saved as an Excel file, .ods, .csv or .kml, Google Fusion Tables can help. Fusion Tables manages large collections of data so you can query, map, timegraph, chart, and add interaction — including user comments — to them.

News outlets have used Fusion Tables most often for mapping data. Take a look:

To make a heat map in Fusion Tables, follow this example tutorial, which is adapted from a workshop Google Developer Programs Engineer Kathryn Hurley recently led for Hacks/Hackers NYC.

Start with with a spreadsheet of the data to map, saved as an Excel or OpenOffice file, or in .csv format. To show boundaries on the map, you’ll need shapefiles (saved as .kml files) as well.

For each file you’d like to upload, select: New table >> Import table.

Upload image, step 1

In the Import New table window, choose the data source in the left-hand column and click “Choose file”, then click “Next” to begin the import.

Upload image, step 2

In the following window, click “Next” to import all data columns. If you’d like to omit columns, uncheck them, then click “Next.”

Import image, step 3

In the next window, fill as many or as few of the boxes as you need. Click “Finish.”

If your shapefile isn’t in .kml format, try Shpescape, made by Josh Livni. Shpescape can convert .prj, .shp, .shx and .dbf to .kml.

Now that both the data and the shapefile have been uploaded as individual tables, they need to be merged:

Open each table in a separate browser tab. In the data file window, select “Merge.”

Merge the data

Go to the shapefile tab and copy the URL from the address bar.

Copy shapefile URL

Return to the data file window and past the URL in Box 2, “Merge with.” Then click “Get.”

In the two columns below, you’ll have the column headers from each table. Click the radio button corresponding to the column you’d like the data to be mapped to. In this case, region to state name.

Map data column to shapefile column

Name the new merged table and click “Merged tables.”

Name merged table

Once the tables have finished merging, create the map by selecting Visualize >> Map.

Create map

To show the shapefile outline, be sure Location is set to “geometry.”

The resulting map will work, but it doesn’t look very interesting. And the info bubble for each individual state has extraneous text in it.

Initial info window

To clean it up, select the “Configure info window” link above the menu. Uncheck the columns you want to hide.

Configure info window

To further change what’s in the information window, click the “Custom” tab and edit the HTML. Click “Save.”

The map should now reflect your changes.

New info window

To further change the look of the map, click the “Configure styles” link above the map.

Configure map styles

In the pop-up window, go to Polygons >> Fill color and select the “Gradient” tab to change the map shading.

Change map shading

In the drop-down menu, choose the column that will be assigned the gradient, pick colors, and give the colors a range. You may need to experiment a little to see what works best for your map.

Click “Save.” The map will update to the new color scheme.

New color scheme for map

To make changes to the map itself — and add a search box — use FusionTablesLayer Builder.

The Layer Builder is still in an experimental phase, so there may be hiccups. Google Code has documentation that explains its use in detail.

To try it out yourself, make sure your map is public by clicking on the “Share” button in the right-hand corner above the map and setting the Visibility option to “Public.”

Then copy the table ID, which are the numbers immediately after “dsrcid=” in the URL. Copy this table ID.

In FusionTablesLayer Builder, paste that number into “Your table ID.”

Paste your table ID

When you’re ready to show your new map to the public, grab the embed code. First, make sure your Fusion Table is public by clicking on the “Share” button in right-hand corner above the map and checking that the Visibility option is “Public.”

Check that the map is public

Then click on the “Get embeddable link” link above your map and copy the resulting code. Paste the code into an HTML document, save the file and open the file in a browser. You’re done.

Don’t let this long post fool you: If your data has been scrubbed and properly formatted, it is relatively quick to get a map, chart or SIMILE timeline started with Google Fusion Tables.

To learn more, see these tutorials:

And if you have a project you’d like the Fusion Tables team to know about, email or contact them on Twitter @GoogleFT.

Chrys Wu is a journalist, strategist, coder and cook. When she’s not advising clients on user engagement and community building, she organizes Hacks/Hackers meetups and events to bring journalists, developers and designers together to reboot news. She’s on Twitter @MacDiva. Read more

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Newsweek redesign: Glad I didn’t judge it only by its cover…

I expected something a little edgier when I reached for the cover of the redesigned Newsweek on Monday. After all, the revamp came after the content merger with the magazine’s highly opinionated partner, The Daily Beast.

The Newsweek cover had an all-too-familiar feel with a static portrait of Hillary Clinton. The logo has been nicely retooled, yet is still reversed out of the usual red rectangle. The cover itself didn’t show a glimmer of the attitude found on The Daily Beast site.

So I wasn’t bowled over when I first picked it up. (I initially wondered if the redesign had been postponed until next week.) But, perhaps understandably, these familiar details capitalize on the magazine’s historic brand. The magazine has been around since 1933.

It was when I looked inside that I found new energy—not overly opinionated or distasteful content, but smart design and storytelling, infused with fresh perspective. I found strong photography, tight edits, layered story forms and beautiful grid work.

Pages inside the redesigned Newsweek make good use of feature typography, photographs and layered storytelling.

The typography throughout the book is a nice combination of two faces, Titling Gothic (the sans serif used on the revamped nameplate) and the serif Acta, which has roundish counterspaces and playful, curly features like those on some of the Arabic numerals and the lowercase “a” and “c.” I found the mesh of the typefaces and the way they’re implemented on feature headlines to be fresh and inviting.

The main headline typeface, Acta, was designed by Dino de Santos. It has open counters and playful, rounded touches on numerals and some of the lowercase letters.

Editors have touted a renewed commitment to photojournalism and informational graphics, hallmarks of earlier eras at Newsweek.

Great. I’m in. Subscription, please.

Now, about those covers… Read more

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