Posted on February 4, 2007
5 things you can do to improve news graphics now
Is it really such a bad thing to take a flat print graphic straight out of the newspaper and stick it on your Web site? Meranda Watling thinks so. She rips Ohio.com — the Web site of the Akron Beacon Journal — for doing just that with a long, skinny, extremely text-heavy graphic.
I have discussed this practice with very savvy Flash designers at major news Web sites. The gist of their answer: You cannot adapt or animate every single graphic the newspaper publishes.
Fair enough. There are practical constraints related to time and manpower.
But when I look at the graphic from the Journal, I see a missed opportunity. The information is both highly local and of immediate interest (the Akron area is experiencing record cold temperatures). On top of that, some of the information can be re-used again and again, so once you built the package and tagged it appropriately, you could haul it out again in March (if the bitter cold strikes again) and even next year and the next.
It would get a lot of pageviews off the Web front if you played it right. People always care about the weather. The executive editor of The Washington Post is known in his newsroom for loving weather stories — you’ve got to run a big snow photo on Page One if there was snow yesterday in D.C. You might laugh at this, but think about one of our culture’s oldest adages: It’s always safe (and polite) to talk about the weather.
Information graphics represent a key area where news organizations need to get smarter to help themselves improve online.
Here are five things to consider right now:
- How many Flash designers do you have? How many artists on the news graphics desk? I’m willing to bet there are more of the latter. So why aren’t they working in Flash already? Why haven’t you trained them? One part of the solution is to stop replicating labor. Don’t make the Flash person re-create the work already done at the graphics desk. Re-train your news artists now!
- Are your graphics unique and relevant to your audience? Florida Today has good reasons to create space graphics: NASA is in their backyard. What’s your excuse? Make your graphics distinctly relevant to your audience. Why? It adds value. Your goal is to serve that audience — so do things that really matter to them.
- Is your news graphics desk involved in all the editorial discussions — and is the involvement early enough? These folks can help you if you invite them in. They can tell you what assets must be gathered to create a great graphic online. They know stuff that you will never think of — so bring them in early, on every local story that’s bigger than a crime blotter item.
- Keep the graphics online, at the same URL. A link to a great graphic should never do this. If you’ve invested the time and the manpower, why shouldn’t you reap the full benefits from that graphic over time? Graphics attract pageviews (IF people can FIND them). The Web does not end up in the bottom of the birdcage tomorrow! It’s time to recognize that.
- Akin to No. 4: Tag and index all of your graphics. You want to be able to find them again when they become relevant again, yes? You also want them to be easily findable when users SEARCH for them. The most illogical thing in the world is to spend two days creating something and then fail to take two minutes to add tags, keywords and indexing aids to it.
It’s time to get smart about news graphics. Find out what your staff and colleagues have done lately — and make a plan today to do it better!