In seventh grade, distraught from my recent findings on MSNBC that lip gloss may cause cancer, I began my search for a new news source. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular–most of my life questions were fielded by Seventeen and Teen Vogue–but I was hoping for something that could convey huge amounts of information to someone with an impossibly short attention span.
Seventh grade was 2005 trickling into 2006. It wasn’t until 2007 when election coverage became serious and I finally found the only articles on the election that I could begin to understand–The New York Times graphs and multimedia articles. In 2008, when this interview with Steve Duenes, Graphics Director of the NYTimes came out, I first saw the future of news.
It was this email that Steve Duenes quoted in his interview that made this change so apparent to me:
From: Nicholas Kristof Subject: the power of art
in september i traveled with bill gates to africa to look at his work fighting aids there. while setting the trip up, it emerged that his initial interest in giving pots of money to fight disease had arisen after he and melinda read a two-part series of articles i did on third world disease in January 1997. until then, their plan had been to give money mainly to get countries wired and full of computers.
bill and melinda recently reread those pieces, and said that it was the second piece in the series, about bad water and diarrhea killing millions of kids a year, that really got them thinking of public health. Great! I was really proud of this impact that my worldwide reporting and 3,500-word article had had. But then bill confessed that actually it wasn’t the article itself that had grabbed him so much — it was the graphic. It was just a two column, inside graphic, very simple, listing third world health problems and how many people they kill. but he remembered it after all those years and said that it was the single thing that got him redirected toward public health.
No graphic in human history has saved so many lives in africa and asia.
I’m sending you a copy of the story and graphic by interoffice mail. whoever did the graphic should take a bow.
The Elements of Journalism ends with a discussion on the purpose of journalism as a whole–something to be defined by its new constituents who are redefining news gathering and sharing. I don’t disagree with this conclusion. I also see the level of involvement of bloggers, tweeters and social media activists only growing in the upcoming decades, but I think the way in which we encapsulate our information is already rapidly changing. Visual communication skills should slowly be integrated into the current curriculum. Our 3,500 word articles will become a combination of a short video or handful of pictures taken with our phones, supplemented by clean visual representations that hopefully every grade school student can create just as easily as the heralded 5 paragraph essay.
Journalism is becoming more loosely defined with the rise of new outlets to share stories (and what is a “story”, exactly?), but I think the key will be in the ways in which we communicate. I don’t see news turning into a pure feed of microblogs and mobile uploads. I think it has a lot more to do with the tools and skills we are given that enable us to communicate more effectively with visual representations of our stories.