22. Illustrations and infographics

Informing is also showing. A picture doesn’t always replace words, but it can make your writing more expressive. Sometimes it makes it redundant. A picture can be worth a thousand words, a cartoon can have more impact than an editorial, a graph can be more precise than an analysis, a map can make more sense than a testimony and a diagram can be clearer than an investigation. Journalism has become a global craft industry. 

All pictures don’t inform the same way

Some pictures show. These are the large shots, for example, pictures of landscapes or of human activity seen from far away. Their purely descriptive value gives them low added-value. Their informative interest is generally mediocre, at best. Unless the circumstances in which the picture has been taken, and the angle chosen, makes it a document.

Some pictures tell. These are close ups, portraits, showing human activity as close as possible, people pictured above the chest of full body shots. They have high added value.

Some pictures are shocking. These are the big close ups, where you can see every detail of the face or the tiniest details. Their emotional impact grants them very high added value.

A picture is an instantaneous slice of life, what matters most is the framing. There’s no room for still-lives in a daily. All pictures must show life. If he’s not a photographer himself, the journalist should make sure the pictures destined to illustrate his copy show slices of life and are frame in such a way, that whichever the main character, there’s life both in the foreground and the background.

I’ll add a panoramic shots of Caesar’s ants on the beach. My readers will get a sense of size and the power of the Roman army marching towards London.

My meeting the Briton will be illustrated thanks to a few snapshots showing the daily lives of men, women and children getting ready for war.

My portrait of Britanix will be printed alongside a close-up of the smiling Briton leader, sharpening his axe.

My interview will Caesar will be illustrated with a very big close up on the proconsul’s aquiline profile.
Then I’ll write up the captions of the pictures my photographer and I will choose to illustrate a centerfold dedicated to those historical events in the weekend edition. It’ll be a mash-up of close ups titled “Caesar landing”. My contribution will consist in the captions and headline.

If I have a highly symbolical shot in my possession, I’ll ask for it to be printed full page.

Absolute freedom for cartoonists

The cartoon is a sacred ground. No one touches it. When you’ve got a cartoonist in your team that’s able to sum up the news in just a few strokes, to cover it detachedly, sometimes smiling, sometimes ferocious, you must trust his inspiration. Even if it means discussing his drafts. The right modus Vivendi consists in asking him to submit three projects to editor in chief every day, at least two. The choice is discussed, but the editor in chief always has the last word.

No room for mediocrity in infographics

Infographic resources give your content added value, provided that their own content is irreproachable. There’s no room for mistakes when you’re printing a graph, a diagram, or a map next to your article. The smallest mistakes casts doubt on your work. Informing thanks to infographics is working with scientific rigor. It asks for reflection, application and coordination during the newsroom meetings.

The reader travels with the map. I need the help of a map of western Great Britain to bring my readers on the battlefield where I’ll show them the battle plans of the Roman and the Briton troops.

The graph explains. I have in my possession the exact data relative to the evolution of the slave trade market since Caesar landed in Gaule… a graph will make more sense and will be easier to understand than a detailed analysis.

The diagram enlightens. The secret funding of Caesar’s campaigns passes through a bunch of front companies. A diagram on that mechanism will be more clear than convoluted explanations.

Better use a graph, a cartoon or a map than a bad picture.