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Graphic Journalism by Dan Archer



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Q&A on PBS Mediashift, Kickstarter Project updates, Creative Work Fund Shortlist

It’s been a while, and plenty’s happened: first and foremost, check out my interview with PBS Mediashift on graphic journalism processes and practices. Then if you want the latest issue of the graphic journalism investigation into human trafficking in Nepal that I’m currently working on, check out the updates from my ongoing Kickstarter (ok so the Kickstarter is over, but you can always get issues from the archcomix store if you missed that boat). Those of you who got the last Archcomix newsletter (sign up here if not) will also know that I’ve been shortlisted for the Creative Work Fund for my project on San Francisco’s mentally ill homeless population and their struggle to find housing services. More soon – and be sure to check out partner site Graphic Voices for more about recent collaborations with NGOs (ECPAT and Save the Children). Thanks for your support.

Bandh on the Run

A little late in posting this. Put it down to Nepali time, will you? I’ve realized one of the downfalls of keeping a blog current is resisting the urge to finish artwork in order to stick it up with a post, as you’ll never actually get around to it. In a lot of ways, it’s like going to any sort of meeting here: you sit down, you have your contact’s immediate attention, you bat the usual “namaste, casto chhaa…tikay chhaa (how are you, fine thanks)” pleasantries back and forth, you get to the reason you’re there…and just when it’s all going swimmingly, RANDOM PERSON #1 enters the room. Not the same random person (that would be weird – though has happened to a couple of friends of mine and is just as stalkery as it sounds). But suddenly, RP #1, a propos of nothing, jumps right into the conversation. Often this will mean the person you came to interview/have the meeting with taking their time to talk RP#1 through what you’re discussing with them. Now you might as well not even be in the room. Only frantic hand-waving a la those guys on aircraft carrier runways, or faked coughing fits have any chance of re-grabbing your interviewees attention. You might get pockets of interest back from them, including bemused looks at you, sort of half squinting, as they struggle to remember why this large white person is now sat in front of them while they’re having a perfectly nice conversation with RP #1. And so it goes. Anyway, at the risk of rambling, that’s just what my posting process has been like this past week. “Sumiya lag chhaa” as they also say – “It takes time”.

Long story short, I’m going to post more often to the site things that aren’t quite as polished so we’re a little more up to date. What percentage of blog posts, I wonder, are bloggers promising to post more often. This month in particular has been filled with visa issues (finally sorted today, only after getting a press pass, and now, finally, a press visa), bike issues (just re-fixed after only being with me a week) and starting/finishing a new consultant job. Comics, naturally, are in the works. The book’s coming along nicely, though there’s nothing like watercolouring by candlelight to do your mince pies in. Oh and lest I overlook the reason for the hilarious title post, the first of many nationwide strikes, otherwise known as “bandh” (pronounced “bund”). In which I was merrily warned that if I took my new motorbike out I’d get pushed off it and it’d be promptly torched. Happened to a friend of a friend last year. The actual day (this past tues) was remarkably low-key, featuring children playing cricket in the street, shops everywhere closed, and assorted mobs in the middle of empty intersections waving their hammer and sickles about. Turns out the only thing the Maoists are reliably good at is stopping anyone else from doing anything.

UPDATE: turns out the RP rule (see above if you’ve skipped to the end, shame on you) doesn’t apply in reverse: I waited a good 10 mins while mr important bureaucrat man talked with his pal and ate his tiffin (love the ol’ school terms that fell out of usage 50 years ago everywhere else) at the dept of Immigration. All I got was a dismissive hand wave.

Cricket in the abandoned streets

The Maoist Mob takes to the streets


Murdoch, BskyB and the takeover that got taken over

At last! Rupert Murdoch and Newcorp’s combined karmic hangover has finally caught up with them, tanking the beloved News of the World and thrusting his entire corporation’s dubious newsgathering ethics into the spotlight. I posted about this a while ago when Murdoch’s bid for BskyB was on the line – though thankfully now UK Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt isn’t as sure as he once was of his wholesale approval of the venture. Many sources are even claiming that Murdoch’s been forced to drop his bid in light of the recent allegations. Looks like it’s for real –  a glimmer of light in the dark tunnel of homogenized media consolidation. More here.

Why does this matter? I hear you thinking. Well, here’s an insight into ol’ Rupert’s business MO, courtesty of a June 2002 FT interview, in which he comments that:

“We start with the written word. Then we get to TV, originally with the idea that it will protect the advertising base and it then progresses into a medium of its own with news, programmes and ideas. You then look at TV and you say: ‘Look, we don’t want to just buy programmes from a Hollywood studio, we’d better have one.’ Then comes the issue of people who are going to deliver your programmes. Cable is consolidating … Instead of having 20 gatekeepers, you are going to have three or four. For content providers, that is very bad news. So, you try to protect yourself in having some distribution power.”

Or else see ol’ Rupe’s comments backing US intervention in Iraq, back in 2003: “I think what’s important is that the world respects us, much more important than they love us … There is going to be collateral damage. And if you really want to be brutal about it, better we get it done now than spread it over months,” he said. Now that the Iraq war has left both UK and US economies in tatters (estimated cost currently totalling $787bn), not to mention the human cost on the ground in Iraqi civilian/US solider casualties and PTSD trauma, can we not start to question the motives of someone with such unchecked access to media control?

As the wheels on the Newscorp bandwagon come increasingly unhinged, more influential figures are willing to put their heads above the parapet, amongst them Eliot Spitzer, former NY Governor. Here’s to hoping the avalanche of criticism appears on the radar of even the most apathetic newsreader.

Back to the Future of Storytelling (explainers, pt 2)

Building on my previous post about explainers, I want to continue a conversation I had at last night’s Hacks and Hackers meetup at Stanford. For those of you who don’t know, H&H was set up by Knight Fellow Alum Burt Hurman (now one half of Storify, which just secured a hefty chunk of angel investor funding) to put journos in touch with the coders who can make their stories come alive on the digital page.

Burt and his partner Xavier had come to talk to the Knights earlier in the afternoon about Storify and the challenges of transitioning from journalism to entrepreneur-dom, and I asked about whether it was possible to find coders who were up for smaller project assists without necessarily being promised stock options in a startup before doing so. Well, turns out I might be eating digital humble pie after chatting to some hackers later on that evening – I’ll keep you posted on what comes of our follow-up talks. But I digress…

Talking to a fellow hack after the H&H evening talks were over, we agreed that in this age of shorter and shorter web-based mini-docs and social media-loaded website parsing feeds from You Tube, FB, Twitter et al, ironically enough it’s the storytelling that will continue to determine the quality and calibre of successful journalistic pieces. Admittedly, this is predominantly in the realm of feature-length, more in-depth pieces, and not real-time commentary. But there is a vaguely worrying trend in the idea that simply by tapping into the cloud and wringing out the plethora of quotidian musings from the flannel of the digital hive mind, suddenly journalists can gain access to a new stream of information that is more real and vital than traditional models. I can see the appeal in this model working for events – such as fellow Fellow Jigar Mehta’s popular #18daysinEgypt – but again it relies on a pre-existing knowledge of the circumstances: for locals who know their way around, as opposed to the newbie cyber-tourist dependent on a guidebook (who, more importantly, is subject to the limited timescale -albeit self-imposed- of their online attention span). Particularly at a time when so many are decrying the imminent death of journalism, or claiming that the good ship of traditional reporting has sprung a wikileak, I think it’s worth stepping back and saying that yes, information is now more readily accessible than ever – but that makes the job of curating it all the more important. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Julian Assange is more of a cyber-security guard for Bradley Manning’s whistleblower, and neither of them have taken any steps to interpret any of the hundreds of thousands of leaked memos – they left that to the Guardian, Der Spiegel, etc. In fact, when Wikileaks did try to editorialize their leaked material, they were excoriated by the online community for their removal of several minutes of footage from the now infamous video showing the trigger-happy crew of a US helicopter gunship firing on suspiciously unthreatening civilian targets in Iraq.

Earlier on, I wandered into a semantic minefield by arguing about the “success” of a good piece of journalism. This reminds me of another troubling article (I’m beginning to sound like a paranoid conservative fending off the barbarian e-horde at this point, but anyway) I read recently in the Atlantic about Nick Denton, driving force behind the Gawker empire, and his faith in page views above all else: analytics, as opposed to content, are king. Here’s a video summing up the new Gawker redesign and shift to a more TV-based online approach. To my mind, this can only precipitate a race to the bottom, a pepped-up mixture of instant gratification and restless attention-span pandering that will open still wider the floodgates of paparazzi photos, celeb gossip rumour mill grist and mindless memes. So what is a successful piece? A good story – something that admittedly needs to entertain/interest you enough to keep reading, but that can also -shock horror- force you to challenge your assumptions and learn something. Instead of page views, what about asking readers to check what they’ve gleaned from an article? Cognition experts are almost as ubiquitous as journalism decriers in exposing the slash-and-burn effect all this hyperstimulation and fragmented media in(di)gestion is having on our poor neurons.

From my clearly unbiased point of view, it’s up to us hacks to combine the raw materials of our storytelling expertise with the hackers who can model it in html5 clay into the right vehicle to maximum the potential return (we’re talking knowledge here, not bottom line – that’s a whole nother post) for the reader. Not to get caught up in making the biggest pottery shed so that the world and his wife can come and try their hand at clay-slinging. Like the folks at the Atavist say, a good story is all about getting lost. Without losing your train of thought along the way.

Last Honduran Panels and a Mountain Top Removal comic from the archive

Above is the last tier of the Honduran comic. Now that the fake election was pushed through and trumpeted by the media, let’s not let the spotlight drift away from the area – check out the video below for some excellent reporting from behind the scenes of the voting process:

Also, here’s a comic from last year exposing the dangers, greed and environmental destruction inherent to Mountain Top Removal – and good luck to those who are protesting in Copenhagen this week.


A Graphic History of the Honduran Coup

Here’s the first page of a graphic history of the Honduran Coup that’s been published online at Alternet – click here to read the whole story or on the thumbnails below.