[This is a guest post by Marco Giannini*, sharing two case studies of breaking news infographics]
Breaking news, everybody loves them. They are the prime ingredient of every story, badly needed from newspaper for the sake of attracting the highest number of readers and testify an event that hopefully nobody will ignore from that day. What we name a turning point.
In nowadays journalism, breaking news infographics is the tool that most of newspaper enforce in order to give the impression they are where, and when, the event happened.
When a major event happens, throng of breaking news infographics are embedded in newspapers to depict and narrate, with the precise intent to split facts (inside the infographic) from comments and opinions (outside). Because infographics are (well, they should be) objective, balanced, and offer all the facts in a tidy perspective for the reader to let him value the scene, and judge the actors’ conduct. Because infographics are not opinions, or if they are, they are cloaked under a fier skin of impersonality.
The infographic editor who attend Breaking news production in a newsroom – both for printed and online newspapers – is usually an over-pressed guy.
First of all, he has to produce something fast, because every other member from the editorial staff wants to see the first draft of the infographic as soon as possible; and he has to be rich in details but concise in description of them; he has to balance each item of the general information without leaning on the reader’s intuition, and he has to grasp, understand and eventually stress the most impressive details without exceeding in unneeded particulars.
Breaking news infographics usually represent major events like natural disasters, plane or train crashes, acts of terrorism; managing these rolling accidents, the infographic editor must not indulge in depicting the most hairy details of a bloody event, tough he has to respect the unavoidable curiosity of the readers for scabrous facts.
And yet, the infographic editor usually has a few hours before closure of the daily issue; poor descriptions from the editor in place, and sometime a real difficulty to reach that guy to ask for more; scarcity of good sources; all the other researches to be done super-quickly before begin drawing the page and the IG.
Let’s see a couple examples I stumbled upon in recent times
A large container ship disintegrated the control room’s tower in the port of Genoa after it went out of course, on wednesday 7th of May 2013.
This was the tower in the center of the old port, used for aid in maneuvering and traffic control, before the crash:
And this was what remained in the water, after the accident:
It happened at late night, so the whole work-day was available for me to gather data and prepare the infographic.
My newspaper (La Repubblica) has a local edition in Genoa, so many details arrived from that source and from other agencies in the morning.
With the aid of another editor, at 5PM I gathered enough information on the port, the ship and the location. Unfortunately not all the steps in the sequence were clear, but I had to start drawing. I could lean on good geographical basis – already drawn and ready to use – in my storage:
(The second map is a detailed view of the old port, while the first covers almost all the city of Genoa)
Naturally I had to design the tower – a relatively new structure, never covered by a newspaper before due to its normal usage – and unfortunately also the ship that hit the tower, a large container ship. An added difficulty was the bulk of the ship, too large to be realistically drawn beside of the tower, as it would reduce the latter to no more than a sketch.
This was the final result, about six hours later:
The sequence is expressed mainly with texts, but I had not enough space nor time to show it by imagery.
The large container boat is out of scale, its rebounding after the crash – drawn here through a grey outlined silhouette – is unnatural. The collapse of the tower and the two small buildings under it is just sketched.
The tug boat represented in the upper corner of this part of the harbor is useless, as there was another tug boat in front of the container ship trying to slow down it and avoid the disaster: but it would be drawn almost outside the page!
I asked the chief graphic editor to dig some space for it inside the second text column from left, but it was too late to cut the article.
Said that, I still consider this a good piece of information. In a single blink of the eye, the reader who opens the page identify the tower and the boat by shape and colors; other details are placed outside the main action in two boxes, defined by soft background colors.
The action is reported through tidy, bulleted texts, that stand out where you see yellow icons representing the mistakes that were done maneuvering the container ship.
A solid map of the whole port facility is under the only snap in the page.
The news keep rolling on newspaper for many days, as the responsibility of the crew emerged. La Repubblica covered the event within its first eight pages on 8th of May, pairing the efforts of other italian newspapers.
What happened on 21st of September, 2013, ¬†in Nairobi Westgate Mall? Very difficult to be said. ¬†The Telegraph stated on 24th of September it has been a terrorist attack from Al-Shabaab group. About 130 people were killed during four days of battle, as Kenya police struggled to drive attackers from the building.
I was designated to conduct some researches within 7PM (Italy’s time zone), just before beginning to draw the infographic. I dug out some facts, basically the death toll and some information about the sequence of the attack. But I knew it was a scarce information: the death toll was destined to rise hour after hour, and the scene of the attack will be cleared only after a massive attack of the local police (what really happened but after five hours from the first strike).
Here you have some preliminary sketches from the head of the infographic department in La Repubblica:
Unfortunately I missed a map of the interior of the mall. But the space on page two on my newspaper was created far before I could complain….
Upon the basis of that poor information and some useless photos, I came out with this ugly infographic: not informative, very approximated, neither so appealing.¬†Something to feel ashamed of:
At 10.30 PM, just 20 minutes before the closure of the main edition, an editor sent me this link (currently not functioning) where I got this map:
If only it had come before! At least I could manage to draw the central great “hole” that runs among all the floors. The news at 10.30 PM also said that terrorists were nested inside the Nakumatt supermarket (on the upper side in this image). I just got time to write it and update the infographic before closure.
On the day after, as far as I know, mine was the only newspaper that tried to furnish an infographic of the Nairobi attack.¬†Reuters came out in the afternoon (on Italy’s time zone) with this infographic, more cautious and not pretending to give details who nobody knew at that time:
These good infographic pieces, still lacking some information on the sequence of the events, came on 29 of September from J. De Velasco and J. Torre:
Another simple infographic was published on El Pa√¨s, designed by Mariano Zafra. I don’t know the exact date:
This is probably the best and overall the most complete graphic approach (I’m a bit reticent to call it an infographic) I found on the Nairobi’s attack. It’s from the National Post, but be aware that it was published on 28th of September, about one week after the attack started.
If there’s a moral in this, it’s “don’t push the breaking news infographic beyond the truth of facts.
*Marco Giannini is an infographic designer from Italy, who we’ve featured on Visual Loop here and here. While graduating from Universit√† degli Studi di Roma ‘La Sapienza’, and getting his PhD in Italian Literature and Linguistic, Marco worked for almost 4 years at the popular weekly magazine Avvenimenti¬† as a graphic and infographic designer. In 2000, he was hired by La Repubblica, one of the top daily Italian newspapers, and has been creating infographics there for the past 13 years. He’s also the owner of Infografica Animata, a creative studio specialized in static, animated and interactive graphics, with several international clients.