There is a vast and growing number of tools which allow journalists to tell stories in more engaging and entertaining ways. Visual journalism needn’t be something new and frightening, it should be seen as the future of telling a story online.
Covering news:rewired last Thursday, I was lucky enough to learn about a whole host of new innovations and tools which are helping journalists to improve what they do in the online world. The market is always clamouring for more when it comes to journalism, much more so on the web: ‘NEW, NEW, NEW! EXCITE ME! ENGAGE ME!’
The big papers and magazines have done a great job of harnessing some of these tools to produce more interactive and attractive ways of describing what could otherwise be a fairly dull, statistics-based story. The Guardian, The Economist and a few others have all been quick off the mark in the race to tell stories in a more visual way.
The Guardian’s coverage of the US election race is a prime example. Without the visual elements to the stories – the graphs, the interactive maps – they’d be quite dull to an online audience. People go to online because they’re looking for something more than they’d get in a paper – when it comes to this, visual storytelling holds the key.
At first glance, though, the idea of being able to produce something similar for a smaller outlet – be it local or student – seems inaccessible. True, the Guardian have a much bigger budget and a team of people working on their graphics, but does this mean the smaller groups can’t join in? No.
Speaking at the visual storytelling session at news:rewired, held at MSN’s offices in Victoria, Media Wales’ deputy head of content (digital), Paul Rowland, made the point that “you don’t need a big budget to do this… it’s not just for the big boys.”
He showed how, using a tool called Tableau Public, his site was able to make an embeddable graphic which allowed readers to compare the popularity of their name with the most common. He also explained to us how using Meograph, his outlet was able to form a fully interactive, multimedia map and timeline following the disappearance of April Jones in Machynlleth.
When considering what else such tools could be used for, the positive effect they could have on the content of small media outlets is huge.
Be it looking at by-election results and candidates, local protests or even the stats of a football team, cheap or even free tools like Thinglink would help to create a much more striking website.
My local paper does nothing like this and, as both Rowland and Phil Kenny from The Economist said, trying to encourage change in them is not easy. So there it is: a gap in the market!
It would not be at all difficult for hyperlocals or student media outlets to jump in and fill it. In a field as competitive as ours, adapting to and using new tools is going to be essential in keeping audiences engaged and stuck into a site when they come online.
There shouldn’t be fear at this, though. After all, nobody wants a story to go into a paper without a picture.
Viewing a website, clicking on a story, shouldn’t the reader be confronted with more than a block of text? Of course they should.
As Rowland recited the old line: “A picture says a thousand words.”
Journalism.co.uk have put together a whole list of tools that can be used for visual storytelling which is well worth looking at.
I won’t tell you about them all because one of the messages was that journalists need to go out there and do these things for themselves and their sites!
But sufficed to say, the potential of visual journalism made a great impact on me and I eagerly await to see how its use grows over the coming years.
What do you think? Would you consider trying to tell stories in a more visual way? Does your output already do something similar? Let us know! Comment below or tweet us @WannabeHacks