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"

Sumario

4. Results

In the process, I found visual journalists with different specifications were fulfilling different roles within the specific context. Since the members of projects already knew each other and had sometimes even been working in the same project before, they shed more light on cooperation and interaction between (people working on) the different phases of the visualization production. On the other hand, the situation draws our attention more specifically to how interaction between different desks in the newsroom serves as a synergy in creating reader experiences. It is a matter of comprehending how multi-faceted endeavors from designers are constituted in visualization of news web sites. It is obvious that visual journalists’ daily work is, more or less, involved into coworkers’ production. Communication and efficient interaction is a concern for everyone in visualization process, and visualist’s role worth reconsidered in case there is blurry job boundaries or team dynamics.

In this section are discussed what co-involvement in team dynamics means and how it may affect web news visualization, as production from visual journalists. Three of my research findings will be highlighted: design practitioners’ role in a social context, their role in newsroom convergence and their practices in HS newsroom. The findings are basically facilitated by the ethnographic research. Visual journalists’ role is converged into a meta-context, in a telling consideration of the emergence of multimodality in web news visualization. Furthermore, the production of design practices is integrated into co-involvement inputs within visual journalists’ mediated actions with new media. By co-involvement I mean a synergy realized by the multi-faceted endeavors in news production team, which collaboratively serve to a better understanding of multimodality in news web sites.

I want to examine visualist’s role from three levels – the role in a social context, the physical configuration in the newsroom and their practices in professional culture. Their daily practices and work determine how they work and with whom they cooperate. These will be well elucidated in the following sections.

Visualist’s role in a social context

Given that newsrooms have had approximately 160 years’ history in global newsgathering, production and distribution, they should be at the forefront of multimedia (Paterson, 2011). As aforementioned, multimodality amplifies the visualization performance in news web sites and sharpens visualists’ toolkit. The underlying visual lifting opens up greater possibilities in visual journalism, whilst design practices in online journalism have evolved to a broader scale of disciplines and converged with different forms and genres. Therefore, how do the design professionals involved give meaning to their work and professional identity within news production teams in such a social context?

This part has focused on ascertaining the underlying role of visualists who shape the meaning and significance of the various influences on news stories, be they visual journalists, data journalists, journalists, programmers and developers. Their multi-faceted endeavors have constituted visualization in an online platform. Examine of how visualists are reconfiguring their positions in newsroom is important for two reasons. First, it prompts understandings of how visualists perceive the co-involvement of team dynamics; second, it raises a valid research question: how do the visualists, who not only motivate but also participate in the practices, learn?

I hereby try to illustrate a diagram (Figure 2) to reconsider web news visualization when multi-faceted endeavors are involved in transforming news in a newsroom. Convergence culture has been part of organizational work particularly in game industries (Deuze, 2007), and game publishers even regard their consumers as co-developers. Yet in my diagram, I argue that there also come co-involvement endeavors within the practitioners’ groups in newsroom. It deals with how visualists perceive the news media processing, which has been partly fuelled by the media’s changing ways of visualization, partly necessitated by readers’ eyes and tastes for immediacy, and partly initiated by practitioners’ thought patterns.

In Figure 2, it is assumed that technology, mediums, and social context are connected contingently. The contemporary technologies are facilitating immediacy (Bolter & Grusin, 1999) through various mediums, while different mediums are evolved to deal exclusively with social needs. The emergence of mediums developed by technologies has challenged traditional journalism; meanwhile it has affected to how news media bring a new way of working as a connection with a mass of people to time and space. This then contributes to virtual community in the social context.

With the dynamism of media convergence in mind, the role of journalistic practitioners has been introduced as synergistic in massive news processing, though some journalists might have been reluctant or skeptical to top-down approaches to convergence. The move from printed press to digital news prompts design practitioners to make substantial considerations of how practices should work and change for improving reader experiences, which in turn give active meaning to news content.

Therefore, when considering new media in visualization, there invoke much more discussion in visualization design in news web sites apart from traditional principles of dealing with text-image relationships (for instance, Golden Mean philosophy is widely applied in design practices, so that visuals are not placed arbitrarily). A sound understanding of visualization and remediation leads to solid comprehension, propelling the visual ‘story’ the designer intends to tell behind the news. In this sense, there comes an awareness of to what extent design practitioners become involved in both participation and anticipation in the constitution.

The reason to rethink of the web news construction from a meta-context perspective, and to define visualist’s perceptions to be of synergy effect, is that visualist is one of the main players who sustain the connection of virtual space, mediated tool and the social environment. It is through the daily interaction of creativity, content and co-involvement within media practitioners that they shape their work and profession.

Multimodality in news web site may appear to be too broad a concept to be elucidating as a unit of analysis in this article. However, when looking at the multimodal performance more precisely, we find that each section in online newspaper has been transformed in different multimodal modes, no matter which layer (Figure 1) you are investigating: a video constructed by motion graphics and textual words; a column started by a profile photo and ended with a story; and a breaking news combined with both infographics and a simple description. Visualization production team dynamics have to be delineated by finding the multiple faceted involvements from visualists. Once we start investigating visualist’s role in web news visualization, we will discover that there often are many layers of actions from different disciplines. The fact may coincide with Jenkins’ (2006) notes about convergence culture where old and new media collide. On the one hand, with the emergence of new media, the outlook of visualization of news web sites have been reviewed as reliance of visual representation. On the other, visualist’s common ground is affirmed and a strong affiliation by perceiving their positions is revealed through understanding the cooperation of multiple disciplines in news production.

Newsroom convergence and physical configuration

Considering reduced time frames and limited creative freedom for in-house visual journalists, there implies that individual work no longer satisfies the creative process of news production work. In May 2013, the Danish trade organization for media held its annual competition. The gold award was given to a special theme story called ‘A one-way ticket to Zurich’. This was “the first time” that a story like this type, with a combination of words, images, sounds and videos had been prepared exclusively for the web (Schou & Johansen, 2014). Newsrooms have different divisions for texts, visuals, videos and photography, which sometimes act autonomously for projects but more frequently nowadays coordinate their work in-between desks. The fact that the above news story was awarded in the competition signaled the synergistic effects of journalistic practices. Before furthering with this thought, let us focalize the designer’s role in a design department and look closer at the interrelations between design practitioners in HS newsroom, as it is essential to establish a clearance of design practices.

Table 2. Summary of the involvement relations for each specification in visual journalism.

Specification

Visualization development

Involvement relations

Graphic designer

-   Daily department meeting

-   Initial selection of visualization options

-   Iterative visualizations

-   Frequent involvement in projects

-   Journalist

-   Data journalist

-   Layouter

-   Editor

-   Programmer

-   Internet/print producer

Layouter

-   Iterative layout visualizations

-   Communication with editors

-   Journalist

-   Graphic designer

-   Editor

Photographer

-   Daily department meeting

-   Initial photographic visualization

-   Communication with journalists and editors

-   Journalist

-   Graphic designer

-   Internet/print producer

Programmer

-   Initial selection of visualization options

-   Initial bespoke visualizations development

-   Journalist

-   Data journalist

-   Graphic designer

 

It is obvious from the observations that each specification has corresponding involvement relations with other coworkers in the newsroom. The collective influence that one specification’s value has on the other visualists’ mediation inputs is extremely strong and is one of the key reasons why newsroom convergence culture has gained much attention (Erdal, 2011; García-Avilés, Kaltenbrunner, Meier, 2014; Wallace, 2013). Essential to the concerns in this article are the ways in which design practitioners are affected by redrafting their professional environment as creative industries, especially operated within a convergence culture in newsroom. The emerging new media system inspires and is inspired by networks of several desks under one-roof operations for media production, which had previously worked with geographical separation.

In April 2015, there just finished a re-figuration in HS Design Department, so that the whole design team is now sitting physically closer to each other in the middle floor of the three-storey newsroom (Figure 2). Within the new reconfiguration, any practice in the design department could inalienably exist, while the cooperation between different desks with distinct functions sparks more efficiency in practice. As Lasse Rantanen (2013), a visual journalist from the design studio[1] based in Helsinki, stated, ‘… it (the result) is “1+1=4”, or at least “1+1=3”’. ‘Before the integration of a big design department as now, some of the (design) people (, such as layouters,) were working without their own chief and scattered among other visual desks’, said Petri Salmén, one design producer in HS, ‘[laughter] Well, the work now is definitely making our life easier.’

Although in-house visualists’ production team, as a small working community, is somewhat atypical community, I believe valuable insights can be obtained by investigating such ‘extreme’ cases. During the observation, I suppose the physical move within the design department toward newsroom convergence has deeper roots. The physical proximity in the large newsroom prompts both integration within the design team and collaboration in different news projects. In Figure 3, it is clear that which desks tend to have more peer production, such as desk DATA and desk GRAPHIC, and this is the exact situation in practice. Besides, journalists are generating ideas about where to find the right visual person for a specific news story.

Visualists’ practices and professional culture in HS newsroom

Since HS, as the biggest newspaper in Finland, has just finished the preliminary convergence in Design Department in the newsroom, the news media pose a challenge for the newsroom to adapt both infrastructure and professional identity in compliance with the newsroom culture. Co-involvement among design practitioners’ work creates interesting and functional family-effects within the media corporation. In the process, the workflow is facilitated by a physical proximity and prompt communication. I presume the convergence process to be “preliminary”, as we see that reconfiguration and reshaping of visualists’ roles continue and the butterfly effects have been developing in HS newsroom.

My field observations implied visualization work in newsrooms as complex and multi-faceted endeavors. The visualist’s professional role is attributed mainly to convergence and convenience shaping the relationship in co-involvement in the creation process. However, the process asks for easier collaboration in the workflow between desks.

One good trial is that visual journalists get embedding codes that facilitates both visualists’ and programmers’ workflow in practice. Therefore, information designers in Graphic Section directly apply html code from programmers in the newsroom nowadays, for a better and easier application to embed designs into the HS website. The html code is pre-scheduled and thus planned, and yet it is still necessary to get the results of the visualists to be published as quickly as possible. In this case, developers and programmers have created the module beforehand and information designers finish the output as long as visualization is finalized. As this visual journalist explained:

Many differences have happened nowadays, and one of the big differences we are having is that Graphic Section is merging with Data Section. Although it took us (information designers) a bit time to learn something new (how to get html code and in what ways to embed designs straight into HS website), it facilitates our work and actually our pressure is somehow released. So we do not think it as a burden to learn new things. In addition, one of us (four information designers in all in HS newsroom) is working for the so-called super spread, which is a ten-column paper, and the other three of us seem to be doing very well with all the other tasks and enjoying relative freedom from the work.

In this quote we see that visualists’ work is re-structuring. On the one hand, they should learn new stuff in the practice, which facilitates web news production process. On the other, with one of them mainly contributing to the heaviest work, it brings some freedom for the rest of the team. This was described as ‘hybrid teams of journalists’ (Dailey et al., 2005: 5), where the key people, multi-media teams sit together to plan and assess each news event on its merits. In this case, they even assign a more appropriate way to produce news stories efficiently. The changes in visualists’ practices lead to some differences of their professional culture in HS newsroom. Talking about the reasons, this interviewed visual journalist explained:

We need to change, not only because the media we are using are different, but also because HS people are getting less. People are leaving from time to time for either career or personal reasons. This means, we need to work out a better system to make the workflow functional.

In 2007, Deuze has already mentioned media work as ‘liquid life’, linking the trends of concurrent individualization and globalization with the convergent trends in life, work and play. Today, this pattern still emerges in the moment when journalistic practitioners feel insecure of their work as the newsrooms are restructuring, no matter whether the company is forced to do so.

For visualists working in HS newsroom, it seems that they have found answers to get used to the new system and the concurrent developments. In the process of transferring more focus on digital platforms, visualists’ practices are not completely being brought to job destruction, but more rearrangement and ‘workforce flexibility’ (Sennett, 1998) has emerged. Therefore, everyone should get prepared to learn something new at any time. This, in line with Deuze, means that visualists, both young and old practitioners, have to come to terms with structural job insecurity and adapt themselves into the professional culture.



[1] The Linesmen website is a joint portfolio for two illustration and graphic design studios in Kallio, Helsinki. Website at http://linjamiehet.fi/

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