Interactive artist wanted
“The Associated Press seeks an Interactive Artist for AP Digital in New York City.” This comes from an advertisement at JournalismJobs.com, and it bears a moment of consideration from people who are training young journalists and/or graphic artists.
The interactive artist will be responsible for creating interactive graphics and gathering elements for use in award-winning multimedia presentations distributed online. This artist will develop new presentations and uses for AP’s audio, photo, text and video content, while guiding the development and coordination of breaking news coverage and large enterprise projects on deadline. The artist will work with editors, reporters, and photographers based in New York and around the world.
There are a few infographics artists in the field today who can tell a story about the first job they had where they were hired to make animated news graphics. The stories sound very much the same: Someone called the artist, who was already working in graphics at a newspaper, and asked him to take a new job in which he would be creating animated information graphics for the Web. In every case, the graphics person replied with a question: What is that? What are you talking about?
Those stories come from about 1999, and the news business has changed a lot since then. We know the future is online. But we still don’t have nearly enough talent in the area of animated graphics.
Let’s take a look at what the job requires:
- Creation of Flash-based interactive graphics
- Gathering photos, audio, video and text for multimedia presentations
- Designing layouts and graphical presentations
- Supervision of planning for multimedia efforts, especially in breaking news situations
- Train other journalists to use/implement multimedia techniques
So how do you train students for this? One school that’s doing a great job of it today is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the School of Journalism and Mass Communication there, they offer an undergraduate course sequence in visual communication. Their program is exceptional because they have at least four full-time faculty who can and do create animated infographics using Flash.
Four. Full time. Yes.
Not every journalism school can afford to set up a specialized program of this caliber (j-schools might specialize in other areas, such as photojournalism, or reporting about health and science), but it’s worthwhile to consider what kinds of classes one would offer in such a program, and to consider whether a less specialized program might need to include an introductory class in this skill area.
What would such a class need to cover?
- How interactive graphics are created (students do not need to become Flash wizards, but they need to know what it is and what it can do)
- How to gather photos, audio, video and text for use in multimedia presentations
- How layouts and graphical presentations are designed
- How multimedia efforts are planned and supervised, especially in breaking news situations
- Use and implementation of basic multimedia techniques, such as (for heaven’s sake) how to create a Web page with raw HTML and CSS
Color theory, 2D presentation and typography would be helpful as well. And don’t forget maps. Maps are such an important part of journalism storytelling, and creating them requires a high level of accuracy and know-how.
I’m a professor at a large j-school, and I know perfectly well that it can be difficult to create a new skills class where none existed before. But in the case of online and interactive graphics, we have a segment of the journalism job market that is growing and will continue to grow. This deserves serious thought in every journalism school and program.
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