Chapter 15
Graphics Journalism

Chapter 15 - Graphics Journalism

Graphics journalism is a specialized form of journalism that uses graphic forms to present information. These forms often use words as well as illustration, so the graphics journalist must have the ability to write -- especially to use words efficiently.

Graphics journalism generally backs up and adds information to other reporting and writing that the publication has done. Graphics journalists usually take one part of a story -- that which lends itself to graphic presentation -- and do additional reporting so that a graphic can be developed for the story. Such reporting is very difficult because it must be precise and complete. And it must produce the information that can be properly used in a graphic form.

The most common types of charts the journalist uses are bar charts, line charts and pie charts. These are used to present numerical data. Certain principles apply to using these different kinds of charts, and the graphics journalists must know what they are and follow those principles precisely. For instance, a pie chart can only be used to show the parts of a whole and for no other purpose.

Maps are widely-used graphic forms for many publications, and a good map can give the reader a sense of place and location for the events being reported on. Maps are also subject to certain conventions. For instance, the top part of the map is usually the most northern point. Graphics journalists must understand and observe these conventions. Even a simple map -- if it is to be informative for the reader -- takes a good deal of skill to report and construct.

The chief goal of the graphics journalist is to present accurate information in a form that is understandable and engaging.

Study questions
  • What are the basic principles of design presented in this chapter?

  • Figure 15.1 presents six way to show essentially the same information. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each form of presentation? What information do some of these forms have that others do not?

  • What is meant by proportionality and depth?

  • What are some of the different forms that type-based graphics can take?

  • What are the three basic types of charts used in journalism? What kind of data does each require?

  • Describe the conventions of maps. For instance, which way should a map be oriented?

  • Describe how infographics can be developed from a typical news story.

Chapter notes

Data and charts. It is very important to understand the three major kinds of charts used in graphic reporting – line, bar and pie (look at the charts in the image above) – and the information that is appropriate to each chart.

Tips for beginners. Students who are learning about charts and how to produce them should remember the following:

• Study charts that have been professionally produced by newspapers or news web sites. The Associated Press has a graphics department that produces many charts used by newspapers every day. Look closely at the way they are put together.

• Don’t try to put too much data in a chart. A line chart should not have more than three lines of data. A pie chart should not have more than six or seven sections at most.

• Use an explainer box to help the reader understand the chart. An explainer box is the text under the headline.

• Try to keep the idea of a chart – what you are attempting to show – as simple as possible.

Click on the image to the right (or here) for more information about how to design a chart.

Data is plural. The word “data” is a plural noun and should have a plural verb. The word “media” is plural also.

Graphics reporting. Finding the appropriate data to build a good chart is not always easy. Graphics reporters often find that the data they need are not available or are incomplete. Try to find as much statistical information about the students at your college or school. Begin with the number of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Who would have that information? See what you can come up with and how many different kinds of charts you can build.

Building charts in Excel. Excel, the commonly used spreadsheet program developed by Microsoft has an excellent chart-building function called Chart Wizard. Click here for some instructions on how to use this function.

Finding maps to use. If you are working for a publication – high school or college – you should not use maps created by MapQuest or some other professional service without specific permission from that service. To do so is a violation of copyright laws. Maps that are free from those restrictions are available from other sources, however. For national and state maps, try the U.S. Census Bureau ( For local maps, look on the web sites of city and county governments. University libraries and geography departments often create maps of the areas they serve, and those can often be used without permission. Before using any map, check to make sure there are no restrictions on its use.

Key concepts and terms

• All journalists, even though they may not be visually oriented, should have a knowledge of visual and graphic principles and how they work in the presentation of information.

• Purpose and content should be the chief considerations in the design of a graphic, not the ability of a computer program to design a fancy or pleasing picture; design should always give way to function.

• Accurate presentation of information is the chief goal of a graphic journalist.

Depth – making a two dimensional graph appear three dimensional; adding this quality to a graph may distort its meaning and should be done with care.

• Just as good journalistic writing often takes the simplest form possible, good graphics should also be as simple as possible.

• The most commonly used graphic forms in journalism are the pie chart, the bar chart, the line chart and the map; each has a set of conventions for its use that journalists must understand and observe.

• Journalists should look for ways to use graphic forms to present information, particularly with the regard to the location, numbers, process and content of an article.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 15

American Institute of Graphic Arts

News Page Designer

Nigel Holmes - Explanation Graphics

Society of News Design

Society of Illustrators

Society of Publication Designers

Poynter Online Design/Graphics tipsheets

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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