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Journalists vs Infographic designers II

The loss of space inside the news rooms and the challenges for both professionals

November 14, 2012

Of all the aspects of the relationship between information designers and journalists inside the news room (read the first part of the article here), none are as tense as the moments when one tries to invade the other’s domain of expertise.

The most common and somewhat established scenario is the one when the journalist suggests a change in the infographic, asking to ‘make it bigger”, “re-order the elements” or “take it out”. An infographic (like the text) has premises that guide its production, but during this process he goes through changes ranging from small details to having to start all over again – this, by the way, is ‘the’ nightmare for any infographics designer.

(How Mariano Rivera Dominates Hitters | New York Times. O prêmio Best of Show do Malofiej 19 foi conquistado com um trabalho intenso de pesquisa que notadamente necessita de muita interação e pró atividade de toda a equipe)

These changes, whether big or small, consume a considerable amount of time and generate a high volume of stress. It is, therefore, imperative that the pre-production meetings are as clear and productive as possible, exploiting every minor detail and doubt that could compromise the work later on. But sometimes there are cases that go beyond this “natural acceptance” during those meetings. This happens when accompanied by sentences like “this is my news report, my article!” or “because I’m telling you so!”

I imagine what a journalist would feel if someone told him to rewrite the whole story.

That interference can be a bit more subtle – like if design was something simple, childish. “I don’t like that color”, “the design isn’t appealing enough”, “add a ‘piggy bank’ to let readers know it’s about Economy” or “Make a graphic using coins as bar charts, it’s cool”.

This kind of journalist gives opinions based upon his personal views, not taking in consideration the technical work being developed. And unfortunately those wrong opinions almost always win. An infographic can go from an important informative piece to a mere decorative element in a matter of seconds.

To talk about colleagues and professionals is always something delicate, to say the least. I met many, during my career, that were absolutely intransigent in their opinions and made my life a bit hard. On the other hand, I had the pleasure to work with folks that really motivated me to keep evolving my style and my way of thinking. I owe them a lot. One of those professionals is Alexandre Mansur (Época magazine, Brazil), with who I produced a huge amount of infographics. I can say that our work was a perfect representation of the interaction between journalist and information designer, resulting in extremely complex and relevant infographics.

The fear of loosing space

News rooms are shrinking. We are reminded constantly that the future of print media is dark and uncertain, either by the closing of Newsweek‘s print edition or by the ‘death’ of Jornal da Tarde (São Paulo, Brazil). The Golden Age of print media, with thousands of publications available, is fading away, and the question is: How long do we have?

No one can answer this yet, but the fact is that print journalism will be seen in a few years as the vinyl record: They exist, but there are few who buy. I see the same relationship between CDs and digital music.

Some ‘battles’ between journalist and information designers occur precisely by the diminishing space to publish content. The vast majority of magazines and newspapers shrank with the decline in sales, which affected the revenue stream from advertising and reduced the number of pages. Less pages equals few texts and infographics.

This has led to a lot of infographics being overthrown, despite their importance – a phrase that I heard clearly exemplifies the way the dispute is usually decided: “If the infographic stays, I won’t write!”

The strength of the text prevails, even if the text is about crossing numbers versus numbers, or something else that would be feasible only through an infographic. It’s like a rule, if something has to be ousted, it’s almost always the infographic. This is an increasingly common scenario –  and of course there are exceptions. The truth is that everyone looses in this scenario: the journalist, the information designer and above all, the reader.

Fewer pages means less room for text and infographics. And this happens at the same time we’ve reached one of the best phases ever for infographics in the News Industry: Today, it’s seen as an inseparable part of modern journalism. But the traditional form of print journalism, as a whole, will continue to loose room for the digital. The relationship between journalists and information designers will most certainly migrate to the digital world, and the success for both parts  will depend heavily on the ability to find common ground and work together.

Written by Gerson Mora

Infographic designer and researcher