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Journalism visuals that knocked me out this week

November 20, 2009

I’ll keep it light on this Friday and attempt to dazzle with the visual brilliance that’s graced my dual monitors this week. It’s my opinion that good visual journalism does any of a number of things:

  • Makes a difficult concept easier to understand
  • Conveys what words can’t
  • Adds lasting value to news of the moment

In order of those points (and descending order of which were my favorite)…

1. Thursday’s Everett Herald

It won’t embed here for some maddening reason, but the front page of Thursday’s Everett Herald was a stroke of brilliance. Designers took Washington state’s budget deficit and plotted the various expenses contributing to it as a series of dots, varying in size based on how much they contributed to the deficit (they explain how they scaled this at the link). As I said on Twitter, I’m not easily impressed by print graphics. This one resonated with me because it took a complicated—and let’s face it: boring—topic and made it instantly digestable. Kudos, as well, to whichever editor OK’d it for the front page. It’ll stick in my mind for a while.

2. Big Picture Blog’s Large Hadron Collider gallery

When does The Big Picture not hit it out of the park? The latest LHC gallery puts in full view the amount of work and ingenuity involved in creating and fixing the machine that will recreate The Big Bang. The fact that humans can do this astounds me and leaves me struggling for words, which is why I’m glad I have this:

Man, seen through LHC magnet

3. Tilt-shift, time lapse of the 2009 World Series

I can’t stand the New York Yankees, but this video makes me OK with watching them win the World Series (over and over).

Vodpod videos no longer available.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 25, 2009 10:53 pm

    I’ll be the curmudgeon when it comes to the Everett Herald front page. Clever? Yes. Arresting? Uh-huh. Got the point across? Yup.

    But: It took up HALF of the front page. Did it really deserve that much space? At a time when readers are complaining that newspapers are giving them less and less content, can we afford to spend half of our most valuable real estate in the paper on an info graphic that is mostly big circles and not much info?

    My response would be: no. As a reader, I look at that A1 and I get it in a few seconds. Now, what else do you have for me? What is holding me here? Where’s the depth of content that justifies all that space? Could that same graphic have conveyed the same info in less space, allowing more content out there? Yes, I think so.

    The days when we could afford this kind of display are, sadly, over. Designers love this stuff but I wonder: Do readers?

    There it is. I’m the grump. Let me have your best shot! :)

  2. November 25, 2009 11:00 pm

    Just to be clear: I’m not saying don’t do this graphic. It’s a great idea and it does get the point across well. I’m just questioning the wisdom of giving the graphic so much valuable space. I believe it could have been done in less space and still had the same impact. And allowed room for even more content on this store to be out front.

  3. November 27, 2009 10:35 am

    Those are all good points and I don’t necessarily disagree with them. However, I think part of the effectiveness of the graphic is its size. Yes, it could have been done smaller—but I don’t agree that it would have been as effective.

    The topic of a budget deficit is, to a lot of people (I only hesitate a little to say “most” people) boring, like I said. But this is a huge deal. The state is mired in billions of dollars of debt and, well, we’re gonna have to pay it off somehow. But a lot of people don’t care because we’re talking tedious numbers and math. Blowing up the graphic to encompass the entire front page screams This is important and you need to care about this.

    There are a very few occasions when taking over the entire front page is a lock for reader satisfaction—major disasters, big sports wins, momentous political shifts—and I think the cover makes a statement from the Herald that “We’re not simply acknowledging that something is huge, we’re telling you that something that isn’t yet perceived as huge is huge.”

    If this were 2006 and The Wall Street Journal dedicated an entire front page to something like “Is anyone a little nervous about how easy it is to get a home loan?” people would question it. But a couple more years down the line….

  4. November 27, 2009 11:13 pm

    I’d be curious to know how readers see it. I bet it could have been just as effective if done a little smaller. And, that would have given you room for other content on the story to be out front as well. What about nesting the circles, one inside the other? I’ve seen that done and it works just as well but takes up less room.

    I just think that that space is so precious that we need to be super careful how it’s used.

    At the least, the question “Does this deserve this amount of space?” needs to be asked regularly. Knowing the Herald newsroom, I imagine that in this case it was and I respect their choice.

  5. November 28, 2009 12:48 pm

    It’s too bad the idea of multiple covers (like magazines do every month) isn’t really feasible in newsprint. Maybe it would be, once a week on Sundays or something, but I kind of doubt it. Because you’re right—it really comes down to what readers think. It’d be nice to be able to play with things in print the way we can online.

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