Monthly Archives: November 2012

Graphics journalism as real journalism

I tried but failed to register a comment this morning on an article carried by the Global Editors Network about how the Guardian covered US elections.

Something to do with captcha errors that I couldn’t be fussed to wrestle with. The piece was all about the whizzy things done by Gabriel Dance and his team, which seemed fine enough as far as they went but hardly very illuminating politically.

So this is what I said in reply:

“fun”, “interesting”, “creative”, “engaging”, and “different” – these are fine things in the race to capture eyeballs but they’re only of any use, from a journalism perspective, if the work informs and illuminates the audience about the underlying political realities. Otherwise it’s just showbiz.

So be all these things to get people to pay attention to the elections but also take some more steps back from the razzamatazz of the two main presidential candidates, their parties and the campaigns for all the other elected posts. Don’t get carried away with the wrapping, remember the substance.

I would like, for example, to see the real-time graphics comparing pledges in presidential debates to the realities. Obama or Romney says “security” – I want to see the graphics asking the question: “who’s security” and pointing to areas of US military actions around the world, including drone strikes and detentions. Inviting tweets from people in those countries might produce some interesting dialogues. Get beyond narrow debate parameters set by the candidates, remember your journalistic responsibility to people, not just US voters either.

The candidates mention budget priorities – I want to see graphics about the numbers of US voters in poverty and how that has evolved in recent years, next door to graphics showing subsidies to banks and financial markets (including bail-outs), to fossil fuel companies, to agro-industries and the military-industrial complex as well of estimates about the scale of tax evasion by individuals and companies.

Also, as backgrounders, I want to see graphics showing the running totals of campaign spend, Democrat and Republican, official and de facto, and where that money is coming from, where it’s being spent (TV adverts, etc) and which media conglomerates benefit. You could also invite people to tweet in about how they think winning and losing candidates might go about rewarding their sponsors after the election.

Graphics innovations and their delivery over the internet, not least via social media and to mobile devices worldwide, open up the possiblity of some fascinating global conversations that could better inform people about the realities of US politics, any politics in fact. They could be a great tool in bringing about what Dan Gillmor talked about in “We the Media” – of grassroots journalism turning old media’s lecture into a conversation. Your commenters and tweeters are part of those grassroots.

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Demand the impossible – sounds like the least we can do

‘We’ve created some feminists!’ … A study group on the Demand the Impossible course at Goldsmith’s. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

I’ve just come across this Guardian report about a free, five-day course at Goldsmith’s College in London on activism and radical politics.

I commented on the piece, criticisng the piss-taking style in which it was written while also including an offer to help out with future courses or with spreading the idea elsewhere.

Just in case such shameless self-promotion gets stripped off the comments section by the moderators, I’m pasting it here

Sounds great – shame the author had to pepper his article with leftie this, leftie that cheeky, chappy stuff.

This sort of teaching shouldn’t be classed as radical at all but part of a balanced, thoughtful education that teaches people to think for themselves rather than turning them into consumer automatons. Our existing system is all capitalist-, profit- and economic-growth driven.

You don’t get accompanying “rightie” this, “rightie” that when it comes to articles about Alan Sugar or Dragon’s Den as they vaunt the benefits of loadsamoney lifestyles that ignore what a complete mess we’re all in as a result.

That would be too “radical” for prime-time entertainment – too many people might get “the wrong ideas”. You’re not allowed to add together one + one to see the result of such thinking as consumer craziness and excess, tottering debt mountains, poverty, inequality, climate change, loss of green spaces, war etc. all that fun stuff which would make crap reality TV, piss off the professional politicians and frighten the business advertisers away. Oh no.

I would love to help out with this course – giving some insight from my own career as a Reuters reporter to talk about how our governance systems fail us and how conventional journalism is generally blinkered to those failures. On the upside, the good news. There are genuine, grassroots alternatives sprouting up around the world that could address both of these problems. There are some Creative Commons materials on my website you can take for free, if you want. I haven’t posted the address for fear of comment removal but I’m sure you can work out how to find it.

What would be interesting is to think about how to seed the ideas of Demand the Impossible to make it deliverable all over the place, not just in the UK.

Creative Commons How to manuals and accompanying video journalism reports made by participants and uploaded online would be good places to start.

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Filed under democracy, journalism, publishing, video activism