Visual Journalism

By UM News

Visual Journalism

By UM News
UM professor delivers a keynote address during the Google for Media Summit in Miami.

Alberto Cairo, assistant professor of professional practice in the University of Miami’s School of Communication, delivered the keynote address, “Believe it or Not, You Are or Should be A Visual Journalist,” at the Google for Media Summit in Miami.

The summit, held January 7 at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, gathered more than 100 media professionals from South Florida and beyond to learn about the latest uses of technology in media and how Google tools can help in storytelling.

Cairo argues that journalists must understand the visual display of information, but effective visualizations rely on more than rapidly evolving software.

“In order to manipulate those data we need to have a good grasp on how those data should be treated and why,” he said.

He urged attendees to seek truth in the data, examining methodology and avoiding spurious correlations, and to pick appropriate formats to convey the information. Cairo also advocated carefully choosing data forms and writing clear copy to explain visualizations to users.

Cairo showed examples of both effective and ineffective graphics, pointing out opportunities to improve them or showing surprising revelations. “The power of visualization is that it reveals patterns that you cannot see in numbers or data themselves,” he said.

Cairo offered four tips in working with graphics:

1. Be truthful: Many infographics mislead or frankly do not tell the truth about a story. WTF Visualizations is one of these culprits, as is Fox News. So much data is accessible through the Internet that you have to be discerning of what is credible and what is not.
One major problem is that journalists tend to not read an entire research paper, instead they only read summary of most scientific articles. Reading and interpreting methodology is crucial.

2. Reveal what data hides.

3. Choose graphic forms carefully. Ask yourself which graphic form will be more effective to tell your story. For instance, a human brain is not trained to compare areas or corners. Therefore, do not use a pie chart to compare more than three areas of a story. Instead a spreadsheet may be more effective. Just because you like maps and can use them well does not mean that it is the most effective tool to tell your story.

Using various graphics to tell the entire story is also effective. You can combine a bubble map, a line chart and a spread sheet to develop different angles of the text.

4. Don’t just visualize, write. Label things correctly but also put things in context. Tell us about the outliers. Copy matters in information graphics. Pay special importance to headlines and to the copy that will give heft to the graphics.