A lot of the stories in the newspapers are violent in nature. War, disasters, accidents and crime … People die and the Press reports. Part of the game.
The visual journalist will at some point end up with such a story – and it’s not as bad as it sounds – somehow a violent event is perfectly fit for an infographic. Perhaps it’s no wonder, when we have a closer look, and realize that all the basic journalistic questions are always clear and present with a breaking news disaster/murder/etc:
1. Who? – You get to tell a story about real humans. No matter if they’re dead, wounded or miraculously saved …
2. What? - Violent events will always include ‘solid stuff’ suitable for drawing/rendering. Compare that to a political or financial story, where the graphic artist are left with abstract metaphors at best. No need to draw ‘The Puzzle’ or ‘The Web’.
3. Where? – A physical event takes place somewhere. You can describe the location realistically or with a map. Only focus on the location if it plays a role for the event.
4. When? – A story which has a distinct beginning is always nice for ‘The Story Unfolded’-type of graphics. Many of these events are over, when they’re reported, so you might get to include the ending too.
5. How? – Enter the visual journalist. Most of the times you won’t have footage or even a photo of the dramatic events – and if someone did take a blurry photo with his cellphone it won’t answer the burning question. How? Just remember that this question can be very difficult to get right, but you’ll have the editor ask for it anyway – on behalf of the readers. This question is the reason you can’t produce good graphics, if your background and interest is purely design. The execution of this point decides whether your content is top-class, or you’re just dressing up the easy facts in new clothes.
6. Why? – Exit the visual journalist. There might be examples, where the graphics will try to answer ‘why?’ – but I haven’t seen any memorable infographic works in coverage of violent events. It’s an important question, so maybe there’s a chance to broaden our field here? My guess is it will have to be reserved for the analysis, which normally takes place several days after the actual event. At a time, where editors have forgot about infographics again. Perhaps the quicker news-cycle in the webnews will shift that paradigm? We want the analysis only hours after an event. Or will it just mean that infographics go out of the newscycle altogether?
I have recently read a short piece, which states that the 5W’s should still be answered in modern journalism, but also pick up on a couple of other W’s. The new list being: Worthwhile, WOW!, Well … We! and Watch.