Visual storytelling: ‘You don’t need a budget, it’s not just for the big boys’

Image by Mark Hakansson

Visual storytelling helps an audience to understand and digest big, complex stories – often through an image alone, the news:rewired – digital stories conference was told this afternoon.

Whether it’s for a national publication, like The Economist, or a regional publication, such as WalesOnline, visualisations are a key and growing part of journalism. Something as simple as an image gallery or more complex like a data visualisation can be used to help readers look at a story in another way.

While many national publications have the benefit of developers to help drive their visual content, not all regional outlets have the same amount of funding. But while speaking on a panel at the conference, in London, Paul Rowland, deputy head of online content at Media Wales, suggested out this shouldn’t stop regional and local news from playing with the tools available to them and attempting to provide the same breadth of content.

Using tools such as Dipity, Google Fusion Maps and Tableau, journalists at Media Wales can provide their audience with a range of visual journalism without having to break the bank.

Rowland said:

“You don’t need a budget to do this, it’s not just for the big boys.”

He added:

“You wouldn’t dream of putting a newspaper out without images, so why would you do the same online?”

Rowland emphasised that while all these tools can add to a story, there’s no use in being clever for clever’s sake.

In the same vein, simplicity is essential to reporters as the Economist, according to Phil Kenny, head of infographics as The Economist.

While he said static graphics get a ‘bit of a bad press’, reporters should not shy away from using them if they help readers to understand the story. Interestingly, he also said reporters at The Economist tend to shy away from public tools because of the nature of the data they use.

Whichever tools outlets choose to use online, it’s clear visual storytelling isn’t going away.

Digital strategist Nic Newman pointed out that online is becoming the ‘uber platform’ with more and more journalists looking to use its full potential.

He added:

“It’s about unlocking the power of multimedia storytelling across platforms, using new graphical tools combined with data and journalistic rigour.”

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