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"


3. Literature review

By transforming news stories in web site, visualists tell news based on the visual representation. Chatman said: “Every narrative is a structure with a content plane and an expression plane” (1978: 146). It invloves not only the content told by reporters, but the meanings interpreted by visualists during the transformation process as well. In other words, if we speak of news story as a communicative mode, a visualist necessarily needs to utilize visual representation to produce the communicative mode of news. In news web sites, visualists use various modes (narratives) as storytelling methods.

Followed by Kress and Van Leeuwen’s social-semiotic perspective (2001), “all signs in all modes are meaningful” (Kress, 2010: 59). Such notes provide a theoretical plate for understanding multimodality in digital format. Bezemer et al. (2012) have discussed some key concepts in multimodal social semiotic studies on learning, such as mode, medium and affordance. The modes are put together, arranged, organized through its mediums, and many such works serve as multimodal design. In the process, multiplicity of modes makes meanings possible by affordance and modes differ in their affordances. These ideas were originated from psychologist Gibson (1986). Later Kress and Van Leeuwen extended their understandings of mode based on Gibson’s concept, “language and visual communication can both be used to realize the ‘same’ fundamental systems of meaning that constitute our culture, but each does so by its own specific forms, does so differently, and independently” (2006: 19). Especially in web design, there are even more choices for modes to convey meanings.

“Within the broad range of modal choices available in a society, there is then the individual’s decision to make choices to use these modes rather than those in this environment for these reasons” (Kress, 2010: 76, emphasis in original). I do agree with Oleksiak (2012) that describing and analyzing these choices is the basis of multimodality studies. What is less developed in the practical applications, however, is that Kress (2010) has not stated much about how sign-makers decide and design communicative modes with thinking about social practices.

Web news visualization more or less takes existing modes of visual production within the institutions of new media as granted. The case deals with digital production technology enabled by media workers, and the possible improvements that could follow from the people who have the knowledge of how to consume the tools at its best. Therefore, these two aspects should be treated as complementary to visual multimodality in news web site, which is spawned as a way to explore some implications of co-involvement inputs from multi-faceted endeavors.

Especially for the professionals in the field, technology speeds up the creative process and contributes to one’s existing competence on skills, knowledge and talent. Therefore, Deuze (2007: 74) thought it as “central to media work”, but “its role is neither unproblematic nor inevitable”. Deuze (2006) once defined viewing in the open but disorganized news web sites as ‘dead’, and even as a ‘zombie institution’. Some criticism goes to the technology at the expense of proper visualization. Jenkins (2006) thought media convergence is a top-down corporate-driven process, while technology has been particularly part of the implementation toolkit in the new media industries (Deuze, 2007).

As one of those who take the implementation in news web site, visualists’ practices have become more complicated with technological development. It seemed that not only technology-focused innovation in journalism (Lewis and Usher, 2013) thicken the plot, but also the potentials in new media improve visualists’ work in the newsroom. In the remediation (Bolter & Grusin, 1999) process, visualists actively consider adding what is called “new media” to their web site. The role of the visualists as co-creator of the online journalism increasingly finds acceptance throughout the journalistic industries. Like what Farnsworth from BBC (2013) thinks about digital journalism: it is not simply about visualizing data; it even brings together visual designers with the teams that create the more high-end multimedia graphics online and harnesses the unprecedented creative opportunities.

Farnsworth argued that visualist’s role is definitely enhanced in the newsroom. Put more precisely, technology provides a more interesting platform for multimodality, and visualists make choices to integrate and make newsroom’s meanings through visualization. In this sense, the technological improvements in digital visualization are likely to be rather less significant than other differences that arise from visual journalist’s practices.

As visualist’s role in the newsrooms and in the journalistic field has to be changed when more endeavors are invested in news web site, there arises a need to look closer to visualist’s role in production team dynamics. In what follows, visualist’s role in transforming stories in news web site is discussed in relation to their specification in the newsroom.

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