Textual & Visual Media

Revista de la Sociedad española de periodistica

Spanish journalistic society journal

Published online - "The role of a visualist: Transforming stories in a newsroom"



Visualization in news web site is a process of transforming news stories by integrating various modes with their communicative potentials. There arises an inevitable need to investigate in-house visualist’s role due to journalistic changes, with regard to media convergence in newsrooms. This text suggests rethinking about visualist’s role in transforming story in newsroom, based on the evidence of multimodal practice in the workflow. Empirical material of professional design practices is collected from Helsingin Sanomat, a Finnish newsroom, using ethnographic research tools. Visual journalists’ specification is investigated during the process of transforming stories. This study evokes a highlight on the multi-faceted endeavors from team dynamics in visual journalism, which, from a designer’s point of view, serve to a better understanding of multimodality in news web site.

1. Introduction

This article makes the proposition that the multimodal landscape in news web site makes visualist’s role complicated in the production process. On the one hand, multimodality increases in news web site and blurs the vanishing boundaries between public communication and journalism (Deuze, 2007). On the other, it challenges visualists’ journalistic work in terms of implementation for both multimodality and multimediality (Kress and van Leeuwen, 2001). In this sense, the changing communicative landscape raises the need to interrogate visualists’ endeavors in the design process in news web sites.

Visualists[1], in this article, refer to those who strategically diversify the possibilities of multimodality to make meanings; at the same time, they are working in news media and adapting their skills to the new environment (Kankaanranta, 2015). They are the visual journalists who deal with visualization issues in news web sites. Visualists choose the suitable modes and resources to shape communication and meanings (Kress, 2014). While researchers are often contending to examine the concrete outcome of the design process, such as the relationship between texts and images (Engelhardt, 2007), the design process remains shrouded to the analyst (Kress, 2014), not alone the practitioners involved.

Considering news web site as instituted of “information and communication technologies and their associated social contexts” (Lievrouw and Livingstone, 2006: 23), I presume the creative process raises attention not only on the artifacts, but also on the social arrangements or organizations that form around the artifacts and practices (Kress, 2014). Therefore, it is necessary to look beyond visualization to the people who take the role of transforming stories in the multimodal landscape, especially when more inputs are attributed to the web site in Finnish newsrooms nowadays.

Kress and Van Leeuwen (2001: 20) define multimodality as, “the use of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event”. To identify the visualists’ role in web news production, I subject the concept of multimodality to a critical examination in the production workflow that involves multiple visualists performing their specialized roles. To do so, I bring a reconsideration of visualist’s role in news visualization process.

The article starts by a dialogue between a visual journalist and me as a prologue. I will then illustrate visualists’ role in production team dynamics and clarify the findings in discussion based on empirical materials collected during the process of transforming news stories. A comprehensive investigation cannot be undertaken, but some key questions are examined, such as:

  • How does multimodality extend and amplify previous way of doing web news visualization?
  • To improve reader experiences, as phrased in Innovation (The New York Times, 2014: 60), how do visualists undertake the role of transforming stories in journalism?

In the article, multimodal analysis deepens the inclination of the multi-faceted endeavors from visualists, while a greater understanding of multimodality in news web site will also be obtained by interviewing the professionals responsible for creating the visual transmediations.

[1] Visualists are mainly described as the designer or sign-maker who finds an appropriate way of communication design. Many researchers (Kress et al., 2001; Hiippala, 2016) mention them with their specific titles in the production process, such as copywriters, project managers, art directors. On the other hand, their work is named as their values as well, in terms of information designers, layouters, motion designers and the like. In this article, I consider visual journalists’ tools and workflow in the visual transmediations from print newspapers to digital. Therefore, the definition of “visualist” is elaborated around what needs to be changed and considered in their design process.


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