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Graphic Journalism by Dan Archer


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Comics Journalism is Just What the Doctor Ordered

At least it is for my current assignment for the Stanford Medical School on the minutiae of cholesterol and heart-attack-related chicanery.

Multimedia Musings

First, a test video for your viewing delectation and feedback: is the speed too fast? Is the text legible enough? Talk about your low-fi setups…

Below is a transcript of a recent email conversation I had with a fellow multimedia storyteller, Bo Soremsky, who put together this awesome interactive piece about a trial in his native Germany. Bo’s Qs are in bold.

People often ask me why i’m drawing pictures instead of taking photos. I’m sure you are familiar with that question. What’s your take on this?

People often forget that photos can be editorialized just as much as drawn images. Personally, I think a drawing is all the more sincere in explicitly revealing that the object depicted has been run through a subjective filter. All too often do readers forget that even a photographer has to crop in/out the elements they don’t want in a frame, and that’s before the editor has their say. Not to mention the possibility of it being tampered with in photoshop. To me, drawn images are the most accurate way of translating what’s in our heads onto paper – crystallizing our subjective experience. Provided a journalist is up front about that, I don’t see what the problem is, beyond the traditional aversion to what’s innovative versus something that’s been traditionally accepted. [Perfect example: Newsweek’s cropping of a Dick Cheney photo in 2009, prompting the longest comment thread ever on the NYTimes Lens blog –]
Without doubt drawings provide a very subjective view of the subject. So, how do you create authenticity? One answer to that question can be found in your hypercomic: By clicking on a panel the reader gets access to supporting documents. Thats a great way to prove your assertions. But are there other possibilities to convince the reader that you are telling the truth?

Sources are always going to be the key to authenticity, and linking is certainly one of the best ways around that. Incorporating more multimedia, housing multiple, corroborative views together could be another. I don’t think one single “truth” exists – even if you and I experienced the same event next to each other, we’d record and report it differently.

What do you think are the advantages of a digital reportage over a printed one? Does interactivity really help to tell good and authentic stories? Couldn’t it be to complicated and confusing?

I think interactivity is one of the few ways of demanding a reader’s engagement and involvement – readers/viewers get let off too easily these days in the era of clicking off youtube videos or channel surfing. Only by forcing the reader to drive the story can we be sure they are fully committed to the narrative – much like the way agency works in between comics panels to make sequential images seem like they’re part of the same story. It could well be complicated – the key is marrying a compelling story with an intuitive interface – no mean feat! (Not to mention being paid well enough to make it in the first place).

Some Explaining to Do

As part of the multimedia jamboree that has come to characterize my project, I’ve been researching the latest techniques that news organizations are using to convey their complex story subject matters to an increasingly time-starved, quick-fix-hungry readership. The key as I see it is to balance an accessible means of delivery (something that doesn’t fall at the first hurdle of being visually horrifying or clunkier than a second-hand skoda) with a message that will stay with the reader for longer than it takes them to drain their latte.

This means content providers being a little more accountable for how the information they’re relaying is being used – after all, a school’s not worth much if its pupils can’t retain the teaching long enough to pass their end of year exams. Yes, you could argue this is less relevant in the second-by-second news cycle, but as we’ve heard time and time again, the up-to-the-milisecond-coverage means little without a healthy working knowledge of the context that it fits into.

Discussing this recently with Josh Kalven, founder of Newsbound, we agreed that game theory could play a crucial part here, inconspicuously cajoling browsers into testing their post-article muscles to see just how many of the key points have stayed with them. Josh has joined the ranks of the visual explainers, creating a company that is “exploring how best to contain and explain complex news narratives“. See below for his first offering, on filibusters:

Of course, we’re not the only ones who have awoken to this new breed of explanatory journalism – indeed Fellow Knight and NPR Marketplace stalwart Paddy Hirsch has made it to the focus of his project, as an offshoot of his highly successful marketplace series of explainers: here’s one on the Double-dip recession from Marketplace:

As I’ve mentioned before, Paddy and I are also working on our own financial crisis explainer, which will be premiering early next month and will be akin to the mongrel offspring of New York Times’ Zach Wise’s after effects animations and Mark Fiore’s more cartoony satire.

Much praise was heaped on John Jarvis (and rightly so) for his uber-slick explainer, “The Crisis of Credit Visualized”, which was his thesis project at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. For a behind the scenes look at how the project came together, check out Jarvis’ post here. Jarvis is now part of a group known as The New Mediators who are using graphic design solutions and interactive, rich-media diagrams to bring clarity to complex processes. Next post, coming soon: riding the visual rollercoaster of slickness – and no, that’s not a veiled reference to this very slick interactive timeline of the Middle Eastern Protests from the Guardian. (Although it will feature).