Graphics, unite

“Traditional narratives assume that publishing online and in print require different workflows, file formats, and so on. But do they?”

A reporter walks into an open-plan office. “I’ve got this very interesting story going in a couple of days,” they say, “and I think we could do some graphics with that data I’ve got. Who should I talk to?” 

That reporter is in a bit of a pickle. They spot name cards on the table, reading Graphics Desk, Digital Graphics, Interactive Team, Visual Journalism — and they rightly wonder who they should be talking to. “What’s the difference between these teams anyway?” they think. “I just want a chart.”

He approaches the first table. “Well, we kind of have our plates full right now, plus it kind of sounds like something The Other Team could do, right?” The reporter nods politely and goes to talk to The Other Team. “Oh, well, we’re a bit short-staffed at the minute, and your dataset only has like five data points in it. And they look like very round numbers to me — did you make them up?” Of course the reporter didn’t; that’s what was in the press release. “This is a job for The Previous Team, surely.”

And on it goes, adding to the confusion.

Fortunately, 2021 is going to change the face of this culture war that exists in some organizations between established (and often print-oriented) graphics desks and newer teams — thanks to a bit of technology and some goodwill.
 

1. Technology and tools

Traditional narratives assume that publishing online and in print require different workflows, file formats, and so on. But do they? Chart-building tools and companies have outdone themselves recently, bringing more templates, greater ease of use, and more interoperability between output formats and APIs. The Los Angeles Times’ success in unifying digital and print output, leveraging the power of Datawrapper, is one example to look to.

Granted, technical solutions require technical resources to be sussed out and implemented, which can take time and resources. But they also pay off immediately in minimizing duplication of labor.
 

2. Goodwill from new opportunities

There’s value in joining forces in this space. The avenues for collaboration and unification of the coverage across screen, platform, and paper are huge — and who doesn’t want to see their beautifully designed piece looking gorgeous on a Retina iPhone and full-width in the newspaper?

Different teams bring different skill sets, which can be in short supply elsewhere. Data/programming skills, illustration talent, advanced GIS-fu: With less duplication getting in the way, these skills can be more widely employed, shared, and nurtured.

Finally, encouraging contact between these previously separate tribes will also inspire and develop new career paths for all — whether one dreams in CMYK or RGB.

The next frontier, of course, is broadcast — a realm of truncated axes and 3d pie charts. But let’s start with 2021, shall we?

Basile Simon is a freelance coder-journalist specializing in data visualization.

A reporter walks into an open-plan office. “I’ve got this very interesting story going in a couple of days,” they say, “and I think we could do some graphics with that data I’ve got. Who should I talk to?” 

That reporter is in a bit of a pickle. They spot name cards on the table, reading Graphics Desk, Digital Graphics, Interactive Team, Visual Journalism — and they rightly wonder who they should be talking to. “What’s the difference between these teams anyway?” they think. “I just want a chart.”

He approaches the first table. “Well, we kind of have our plates full right now, plus it kind of sounds like something The Other Team could do, right?” The reporter nods politely and goes to talk to The Other Team. “Oh, well, we’re a bit short-staffed at the minute, and your dataset only has like five data points in it. And they look like very round numbers to me — did you make them up?” Of course the reporter didn’t; that’s what was in the press release. “This is a job for The Previous Team, surely.”

And on it goes, adding to the confusion.

Fortunately, 2021 is going to change the face of this culture war that exists in some organizations between established (and often print-oriented) graphics desks and newer teams — thanks to a bit of technology and some goodwill.
 

1. Technology and tools

Traditional narratives assume that publishing online and in print require different workflows, file formats, and so on. But do they? Chart-building tools and companies have outdone themselves recently, bringing more templates, greater ease of use, and more interoperability between output formats and APIs. The Los Angeles Times’ success in unifying digital and print output, leveraging the power of Datawrapper, is one example to look to.

Granted, technical solutions require technical resources to be sussed out and implemented, which can take time and resources. But they also pay off immediately in minimizing duplication of labor.
 

2. Goodwill from new opportunities

There’s value in joining forces in this space. The avenues for collaboration and unification of the coverage across screen, platform, and paper are huge — and who doesn’t want to see their beautifully designed piece looking gorgeous on a Retina iPhone and full-width in the newspaper?

Different teams bring different skill sets, which can be in short supply elsewhere. Data/programming skills, illustration talent, advanced GIS-fu: With less duplication getting in the way, these skills can be more widely employed, shared, and nurtured.

Finally, encouraging contact between these previously separate tribes will also inspire and develop new career paths for all — whether one dreams in CMYK or RGB.

The next frontier, of course, is broadcast — a realm of truncated axes and 3d pie charts. But let’s start with 2021, shall we?

Basile Simon is a freelance coder-journalist specializing in data visualization.

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