There must be something in the water …. twice this week I have received emails from online journalism students asking for my thoughts on data journalism – and more specifically, my data idols.
The first was an email from Germany – or student Katarina Bons to be precise – asking for information about any studies into data journalism in the UK and
who the key players were.
During the completion of my final MA Online Journalism project, during a desperate need to relieve tension, I pasted the text of my MA final dissertation into Wordle. Whilst I regrettably did not save the final image there were some surprising, and not so surprising results. Data, was of course – one of the most commonly used words (so much in fact that the A key on my laptop broke off and flew across the room).
Another word that cropped up, worryingly often, was McCandless.
Poster boy for the data generation, but not without his critics, David McCandless is definitely my data-crush – his simplistic yet visually stimulating work is a definite inspiration to me and – in times of creative drought – I have asked – “what would McCandless do?”. (to make the shortlist of an Information is Beautiful challenge was one of my personal highlights)
Then I received an email, a few days later, from BCU MA Online Journalism student Duarte Romero Varela asking for a recorded interview about data journalism.
Being an alumni of that particular course, and a self-confessed data geek, I was more than happy to hold forth.
- Q: who is my data viz hero? (A: see above)
- Q: what tools do I use? (A: Excel > Tableau > Illustrator)
- Q: what is more important, how clear a viz is, or how it looks? (A: both – a clear ugly chart is like a badly written article – who’d want to publish it?)
This question was of particular interest to me – the tide does appear to be turning against data viz / infographics at the moment, thanks to the tsunami of terrible examples finding their way into web content, newspapers and onto billboards, bus stops and the side of coffee cups. There are cases, and I am definitely guilty of this at times, of being seduced along a path of beauty, and forgetting about the practicalities and the journalism.
Here’s how I see it …
Journalism: what are you trying to convey? What is the story?
Clarity: it has to tell that story
Design: it has to look attractive for people to want to interact with it
It’s a shame that there are so bad examples out there, outweighing the good and giving the whole area a bad name.
There is a real need in some cases for highly complex information to be reworked into a visible format and it would be a shame if we threw the useful bar chart out with the overdesigned viz