A new translation of this guide is now available, thanks to the efforts of Alessandra de Falco, a journalism professor at Universidade Federal de São João del-Rei in Brazil. She uses the guide in her classes.
Also, I neglected to post earlier about a new Chinese translation, by Xiaonan Wang, a graduate student at the Missouri School of Journalism. She sent this to me in June, and I failed to post it before now.
I wrote the guide here, on this blog, in 2009. It has not been updated, but it seems a lot of the advice and instructions still hold up today. Some links might be broken. I regret that I do not have time to update the guide at this time.
What do we mean when we say, “Data can tell a story,” or “Stories can be found in data”? (Click the image to view the project.)
Above: From the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Pew Research Center. (More info.)
Above: From OpenSlate, a market research firm; reported by Fruzsina Eördögh, at ReadWriteWeb.
Above: “Since its inception in 2002, Pew Global Attitudes Project has surveyed nearly 300,000 people in 59 countries. This interactive database provides users with the ability to access key trends on questions ranging from attitudes toward the U.S. to people’s assessments of their own lives and views about the current state of the world and important issues of the day. These key trends can be accessed by question topic or by country.” Updated with data from spring 2012. (Home page.)
Above: As the result of legal settlements with the federal government, drug companies post the names of their speakers — and how much they paid them — on their websites. “ProPublica took these disclosures and assembled them into a single, comprehensive database that allows patients to search for their physician” (source: ProPublica). Updated in fall 2011.
Above: From The Texas Tribune — government employee salaries in the state of Texas. Matt Stiles, data journalist for the The Texas Tribune, told Poynter “that in addition to driving about two-thirds of The Texas Tribune’s traffic, the databases have attracted new audiences and provided readers with an interactive way to access information that’s public but not always easy to find.”
One meaning of the phrase “visual journalism” is simply photojournalism. There are people who use the two terms interchangeably. I respectfully disagree with that approach — mainly because the word “photojournalism” is perfectly good, and clear. It is a word that can easily embrace video journalism (but maybe not TV journalism, which I see as a very different animal) and digital — including editing and optimizing photos for the Web and mobile.
In other words, adding some video and Web to a photojournalism course does NOT (in my opinion) make it a “visual journalism” course. It certainly does not make it a “multimedia journalism” course!
So here are my 10 proposals for a university-level course in visual journalism:
1. A visual journalism course comes after an “intro to journalism” or “intro to mass comm.” course, because we want the students to have a general idea of “What is journalism?” first, before starting visual journalism.
2. A visual journalism course can precede all writing and reporting courses if item 1 above is followed.
3. A visual journalism course includes 2D design for both print and Web, and that includes typography and color theory, as well as principles of composition (which apply to photography as well as page layouts).
4. A visual journalism course includes an introduction to photojournalism, with examples and discussion of great photojournalism.
5. A visual journalism course includes (a little) video, with discussions of the differences from and similarities with still photography.
6. A visual journalism course includes (a little) motion graphics, e.g. The Girl Effect.
7. A visual journalism course includes data graphics/information graphics, with analysis of design principles therein (proximity, unity, balance, etc.), as well as the idea of communicating numbers with graphics.
8. All journalism students today need to complete a visual journalism course of this type to be suitably prepared for working in journalism today.
9. As a course required of all majors, an introduction to visual journalism need not be a fully lab-based course with a large number of hands-on or skills-based assignments.
10. A visual journalism course must include at least a few hands-on assignments (which may be completed outside class time).
Like any savvy blogger, I look at my blog stats from time to time. The stats tell me a lot of people come to this blog because they are searching for information about how to become a journalist, what to study, and whether it’s smart to be a journalism major.
I teach about online journalism in one of the largest journalism programs in the United States, and I’ve been doing that since 1999. So I do have a strong opinion about this. I have written my opinions here before (see the link list below), but here’s a quick summary:
People won’t hire you because you have a degree. They will hire you because you can demonstrate real skills.
The skills that are needed do includewriting (still), but that means correct, reliable, professional writing, along with the ability to find and maintain a focus, tell a story, use words correctly and well, and not require an editor to put the commas in for you.
All journalism is now digital. So you need to be able to demonstrate digital skills.
The digital skills that are in highest demand are the skills to create, to produce. Not to consume.
If you’re not learning how to create and produce digital journalism, you’re not gaining marketable skills.
If you’re shopping for a journalism degree program in which to enroll, you must look at the names and descriptions of the courses taught in that program. Use the Internet, for heaven’s sake. Use Google. Read.
Not all journalism degree programs (at either the bachelor’s or master’s degree level) are the same. In fact, they vary a lot. Some are great. Some are terrible. Many fall in between.
While you’re Googling, look up the professors and other teachers who are on the faculty and teaching those classes. What are their qualifications? What are their real-world skills?
Having just finished grading some student blog posts, I have a few thoughts:
1. Headline. The headline (or title) of a blog post should accurately represent the content of the blog post. If the blog post is a critique of, say, a news story, don’t write your blog post headline as if your post is the news content. Provide a cue that this is a critique or review.
2. Links. No one needs you to provide a link to the home page of a well-known news or media website. Links should be value-added to you post, and never just for the sake of having some links. Find something good; otherwise, no links.
3. Focus. Get to the point already. What is this post about, and why is it here? No one has all day to hang in there while you clear your throat for three paragraphs.
4. Paragraphs. Yes, please. And short ones.
5. Images. A nice photo might grab a few readers, but make sure the image is suitable for — even well matched to — your post’s content. When you are critiquing something, for example, a screenshot of that (website home page, article page, etc.) is very appropriate. And please, respect copyright for all images (read the short section under the subheading “5 Things to Think About Before Using Copyrighted Images” in this post).
6. Tags and categories. It seems that most students are just too lazy to create categories for their blogs, let alone add useful tags to blog posts. Well, good luck getting a job if that describes you. (WordPress users should read this: Categories vs. Tags.)
I’m catching up on some of the (many) things that have been written about the recent Jonah Lehrer ethics case, and I’d like to highlight this article for its breakdown and descriptions of some serious transgressions:
I think one thing we must do as journalism educators is to be much more explicit about what is okay and what is most distinctly NOT okay when one is writing or voicing journalism. Without excusing Lehrer in any way, I see his case as one that might be repeated easily and often — even by the graduates of many a good j-school.
It’s not that we don’t teach about ethics and accuracy and the proper use of quoted material and so on — we do, of course.
But are our students listening? Are we really getting through to them?
The article at Slate includes a handy grid chart showing which journalistic infractions the article’s author, Charles Seife (journalist and faculty member at NYU’s j-school), uncovered in an analysis of Lehrer’s earlier blog posts published at Wired.
Seife uses the following descriptors:
Recycling: This is reuse of something (small or large) the same author has written before, without explicitly saying so. Seife: “Sometimes Lehrer had reused sentences, paragraphs, or even multiple paragraphs. On occasion, a passage was recycled multiple times, appearing in several different pieces.”
Press-release plagiarism: This involves lifting text directly out of corporate-issued press releases (or similar texts produced by commercial interests to promote their products or services) — without explicitly quoting or providing a clear statement about where the material came from. It’s a form of copying without attribution. Every journalism teacher I know considers this unacceptable. Yet students still commit this ethics violation again and again. Seife: “In the sample of posts I looked at, there were a number of places where it looked like Lehrer had taken text from a press release and placed it in his own blog after a light edit.”
Plagiarism: Seife refers to this as “taking credit for other journalists’ prose,” of which he said he found (and documented) three examples from Lehrer’s blog posts.
Issues with quotations: This is a rich, rich field for classroom discussions, and the Lehrer case made it clear to me that would-be journalists probably need to spend a lot of time on this before we educators can feel even somewhat confident that they truly understand what is acceptable. Playing fast and loose with quotations he attributed to Bob Dylan led to Lehrer’s resignation from his staff writer job at The New Yorker.
In one example, Seife wrote:
Lehrer quotes scientists who authored a research article as saying, “The behavior of basketball players shows the limitations of learning from reinforcement, especially in a complex environment such as a basketball game.” This passage appears, verbatim, in a press release issued by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem — but it is not a quotation from the scientists.
Issues with facts: This category might not be as murky (in the minds of students) as some of the others. Seife mentions only two examples from Lehrer’s corpus, but interestingly, he notes that Lehrer repeated both fact errors in later writing — even after he had been informed of their being incorrect.
Seife’s article is lengthy; it offers a lot of good material for discussion, and these are certainly discussions we need to be having — often — in the j-schools. Noting that he is 10 years older than Lehrer, Seife concludes with a significant warning:
… unlike him, my contemporaries and I had all of our work scrutinized by layers upon layers of editors, top editors, copy editors, fact checkers and even (heaven help us!) subeditors before a single word got published. When we screwed up, there was likely someone to catch it and save us (public) embarrassment. … [Lehrer,] despite having his work published by major media companies … was operating, most of the time, without a safety net.
That’s the world we’re sending our students into. They need to be careful out there.