Critique & critic

My affair with… Visuals

Capture d’écran 2014-04-04 à 23.22.21

This year, I had the chance to go through visuals and data journalism with my Brunel University Masters class. Both topics are often linked as they tend to present information in an alternative and appealing way. Data feeds visuals. When I discovered it, I was immediately hooked.

Understand me, I am from this generation of journalists born with the crisis of journalism. With the spread of new technologies, internet and social networks, readers do not approach information the same way than before. The transition has to be made by news organizations. In 2012 in France, my native country, journalism was the area that hired the least in the whole job market. Today in London, I am told every week that I should get used to working for free. I should also consider useful to pray every day to find a job when done with my studies.

My position as an aspiring journalist as well as Y generation reader (born between 1980 and 1990) puts me at the crossroad of actual journalistic battlegrounds. As many of people of my generation, I read news on my tablet, I have Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin and I fully appreciate the graphic advantage of visuals. As a journalist I quickly seized the interest of presenting data in a clever way. Let me explain to you how it started and maybe you too, you will soon fall for it.

A few months ago my class and I went to an Oxford University conference given by Nic Newman. Mr Newman is a journalist and digital strategist known for having shaped the BBC’s internet media strategies for over a decade. As he detailed in his presentation, the number of Britons who had access to a tablet has doubled in 10 months, that number hitting 40% of Britain’s population today. Twitter counts 215 millions active users, Facebook, 1.6 billions and Youtube 6 billions. 76% of smartphone owners use it to get news. The audience has not disappeared, it is only shifting in its choice of media. Following their readers, news organizations undertook a change in the presentation of their information, as the Guardian for instance which displays excellent visuals. However the transition has not been easy for everyone as numerous media organizations had to close down or rethink their print and online approach. That explains why our situation as journalism students is difficult but not desperate. Some doors are closed but only for new ones to be opened.

Biography Nic Newman, Digital Strategist

Statistics issues by Global Mobile Data Forecast

Last month, our professor and many times editor John Mair invited my fellow students and I to the launch of his latest book “Data Journalism: Mapping The Future”. Impressed by the panellists, a fellow student Raya Raycheva (an excellent music journalist) and I thought about a way to spread our interest for data journalism to our university. One of the book contributors kindly accepted our invitation and gave a conference at Brunel. Jacqui Taylor is founder and CEO at Flying Binary, a company specialising in media strategies.
Last year mobile traffic increased by 81%, reaching 18 times the size of the entire global Internet in 2000. As Jacqui Taylor underlined it, nowadays just over 20% of the world’s population is online. With the increasing use of internet, governments are forced into more transparency and publish their data online. Let’s not forget about whistle-blowers who are now an unavoidable part of modern sources of information. The size of available data itself becomes a problem when too big. Internet users need translators, that is to say professionals trained to read through that mass of information and extract patterns from it. By definition journalists are the bridge between sources and the audience, the difference with data journalism is that most of the time, there is no need for investigations as information comes to journalists.

Where to find “Data Journalism: Mapping The Future”

Where to find Raya Raycheva’s music blog

Jacqui Taylor, Web scientist and founder at Flying Binary

So to summarize, there is plenty of data available from internet and a huge audience to reach. I guess now your last question is: how do I present data?

It’s funny you said that because a few weeks ago I went to a useful workshop organized by students from City University with Maxime Marboeuf, data analyst at Tableau Software. Mr Marboeuf explained us how to use his company’s software to organize data. Once your Excel sheets uploaded on the website you can visualize them as all sorts of graphs, tables and maps. As Tableau Software is not yet available on Mac, I recommend the alternative Many Eyes for Mac users. Getting the basic skills to use such software took the length of the workshop – 1 hour. I am adding that because I know that many people could be interested by data journalism but feel that it is too complicated. It is not, with an internet connection nowadays everything is possible! I also recommend the workshop bundle for useful info about where to find data and how to use them.

Where to find Interhacktive’s bundle

Tableau Software

Many Eyes

Knowing all of this, when I had the mission to write a double page for Launchpad, a magazine edited for entrepreneurial individuals, I immediately thought of visuals and my new knowledge of it. I must say that a Guardian visual especially influenced my work and I spent hours studying Facts Are Sacred by Simon Rogers. I would also recommend Cool Infographics by Randy Krum and Data Points by Nathan Yau.
I have the pleasure to announce that my graph has been published, and will be used by Brunel University as a commercial for the Innovation Hub!

It is only a beginning and I hope that I will soon have statistics to introduce in my graphs – a new adventure to begin!

Guardian visual about UK Budget


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