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"


2. Background

During my visit to Helsingin Sanomat[1] (abbreviated as HS) newsroom I have had some informal and formal interviews with in-house visual journalists there. The following extract is from an open discussion last May with a visual journalist Boris Stefanov, held by his working space in Grafiikka (Finnish word for Graphics) Section in HS Design Department.

Me: … So are you enjoying the work here now? Any difficulties in working in the news section?

Boris: Yes difficulty exists everywhere, doesn’t it? Well, I usually have three or four projects running… I may think about the work after leaving the shift, but subconsciously.

Me: Anything else? What about the communication in the news section?

Boris: hmm… Well usually the communication between us is good. When journalists come to me, they may bring me a list of visual materials. [Pointed at the computer screen] Like these… this means they’ve already thought about the visualization in mind. I may decide to use or not, but at least it somehow saves my time. But in most cases, journalists came to me with a list of texts. I feel… [Smile] you know, there’s no point to show them in animation (maybe in static graphics). At that time, I need to figure out what visual signs could be and what the most efficient way to express is.

Me: This seems to be tough work, as you must be very quick in response.

Boris: Yes. But the most difficult part is, some journalists (not all, of course) don’t know the point of videos or animation, as they don’t have the knowledge of motion graphics. That is, the distinguish between static and moving graphics…

Carey Jewitt once proposed that we were facing the visual turn to a multimodal landscape (2009). Multimodality is not new in visualization, as we are getting used to communicate with visual and non-verbal signs. Yet there arise more concerns about the definition or the applicability of multimodality, when it is situated in the broader context of social and technological changes in the newsroom. The heralding of new media and new technologies enables modes to be configured, constructed and recycled in different ways (Jewitt, 2009). In news web site, the modes, whether in visual or in verbal, are intimately connected and enmeshed through the endeavors both from reporters and visual journalists. Therefore, the conditions call for cooperation in news production workflow, which offer an emergent vision of visual practice that is powerfully convincing in the communicational landscape.

A key aspect of this is how multimodal ensembles feature web news visualization. Jenkins (2006) uses the concept of convergence culture to describe the new era of media use where new and old media, media producers and consumers collide unpredictably in their request for control and power. The remediation from printed press to digital news prompts visual journalists to make substantial considerations of how practices should work and change for improving reader experiences. Understanding visual modes as multimodal integration with new media technology and cultural practice asks how this characterization of web news as visualization is working (Figure 1). Newsroom convergence evokes a visual lifting in visual information structure, instead of a simple accumulation of various elements in visualization. Visualization in news web site today is no longer a one-way communication; rather, the communication is becoming layered. Within it, there are institutional and practical conversations between different groups. On one hand, layered communication is adaptive to web news, as dozens, hundreds or thousands of (textual and visual) narratives are divided into various layers. On the other, it is beneficial that the production team dynamics can be reviewed from the bottom line. According to Norris (2009), all modes and all media carry affordances and visualists utilize the culturally mediated means to produce and reproduce the communicative meanings.

The idea of layered communication indicates how to perceive the multimodality in news web site. Meanwhile, it also extends previous thinking of visualization. In the old system, people may get satisfied with one-medium visualization. But in news web site, each individual visual is working sufficiently as a “snail” in the layer. The interplay of such many works can create an unprecedented degree of complexity and generate a depth of engagement among viewers (Jenkins, 2004).

The outlook of the final multimodal artefact comes from the emergence of technology and cultural practice, but it also paves our way to more attention to the specificity of the changes in visualist’s production workflow. Technology emergence sharpens visual journalist’s toolkit in redesign construction, while the multimodality elaborated in different ways transforms what can be done and by whom it can be realized. This heralds the moment that recognizes the need to understand visualists in relation to their different specification.

[1] Helsingin Sanomat website at www.hs.fi. Helsingin Sanomat is the biggest newsroom in Finland, considering its readership, number of pages, journalists and working facilities. In this article, HS newsroom is working as a representative of co-involvement in visual journalists’ work.

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