Good informational graphics take journalism beyond the paragraph and directly into the minds of the readers.
Presenting information graphically is one of the most sophisticated things a journalist can learn to do. Graphics are a powerful tool that journalists should learn to use and to put at their disposal whenever they need to do so.
This section will show you some of the basic ways that charts, graphs and maps can be used to enhance reporting and to inform your readers. Many journalists who discover the power of graphics devote a good deal of time and effort into finding information and building graphic presentations for their readers.
Graphics are instruments of effective journalism for a variety of reasons.
Graphics allow journalists to show rather than tell. A text description of an earthquake is one thing. A map-based drawing of a quake can give the reader a more complete picture of what happened and why.
Graphics are attractive on a page or a computer screen. They draw the eye of the reader and hold their attention.
Charts are an effective and efficient way of showing numbers and making them meaningful. Journalists must often present information that contains numerical data. This information has meaning only when it compared to other data. A good chart can demonstrate this comparison.
Graphics are an efficient way to present a large amount of information. A good, simple graphic can hold a mountain of information that will engage the reader’s interest.
Well-designed graphics allow readers to make their own discoveries. With a good graphic, a journalist does not have to describe every detail and every relationship. Journalists can point out what they believe is necessary and important, but ideally readers can look at a graphic and discover things for themselves.
The well-constructed graphic represents a high level of good reporting. Graphic forms are highly demanding in the information they need, as you will discover as you continue through this section. Reporters have to be both intelligent and thorough about the information they gather. A good graphic requires a great deal from a journalist. Students who are learning about charts and how to produce them should remember the following:
- Study charts that have been professionally produced by newspapers or news web sites. The Associated Press has a graphics department that produces many charts used by newspapers every day. Look closely at the way they are put together.
- Don’t try to put too much data in a chart. A line chart should not have more than three lines of data. A pie chart should not have more than six or seven sections at most.
- Use an explainer box to help the reader understand the chart. An explainer box is the text under the headline.
- Try to keep the idea of a chart – what you are attempting to show – as simple as possible.
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