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– 1% of the news in infographics …

The Death of Datavisualization in the News

Good news from the biggest infographic conference this year: Datavisualizations as a journalistic end-result has taken a fatal blow and will most likely be gone by the next few years.

Datavisualization doesn’t tell the story
The reason is simple: Dataviz is for research. It doesn’t tell the story on its own. It never worked, but it took a few years to come to this understanding.

If the researcher works as a journalist, he can use dataviz to dig up a story. That story has to be told with other means than just publishing your research-material and call it an infographic.

Dataviz is a means to an end – not an end in itself.

You saw this clear trend in the awarded material and you heard it from many professional in the room: When you work in the news with journalistic storytelling you bloody well start tell these stories, rather than presenting a huge dataset to the reader and ask them to do your work.

No longer will it be enough to execute graphics with a certain wow-factor and then hope for the best. You need to be sure, that you have a story to tell. We’re taking back responsibility for the visual experience and will try to avoid all the arbitrary connections and untrue stories, that readers have been fooled into seeing in the presented data-sets.

Linear storytelling awarded ‘Best of Show’
Joe Ward from the New York Times spoke of the process of making the online-graphic about the great pitcher Mariano Rivera. How they decided against publishing graphically all the data for the users to play around with and instead went for the linear storytelling with heavy use of graphics. That exact entry was later awarded ‘Best of Show’.

So should data-wizards start looking for another job then? Absolutely not. Data-driven journalism is still in its infancy – and I really believe, that a lot of good stories are hiding in the data. It will take datavisualizers to help dig these stories out of the data and it will take datavisualizers to present the findings (not the entire dataset) as well-executed infographics.

The Saviour of Datavisualizations
This will in turn end out as being The Saviour of Datavisualizations in the news. When readers suddenly start to realize that visualizations actually has a story to tell – insights to deliver – they’ll start spend more time and effort than ever with dataviz. Instead of duping your readers, you’ll be serving your readers.

It will still take some hard work from infographic people with a journalistic instinct to keep fencing away the meaningless visual plots, but we’re on track now. This year’s Malofiej was the proof, that we’re winning the fight, and I wouldn’t count on too many dataset-visualizations in the award-show for next year.