Infographics: Facts, not Fiction

Some experts who care about and practice visual news have sharp complaints about the non-factual graphics that were so widespread in the media’s coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1.

Journalism is a serious business where credibility is paramount. Editors need, first and foremost, to get the facts right, in graphics as well as text and video.

What happened last week was that some editors, given a sensational story and little detail, acted as if they were in show business, not the news business. Graphics often were flashy and hyped and very inventive – good show business – but if they portrayed what actually happened, it was only by accident.

In this article, we offer six rules to ensure that editors follow basic, ethical journalism standards in presentation of infographics. It’s a statement in the form of a checklist. Fifty-eight journalists, all of them highly regarded in the field, have endorsed the statement. Their names are listed at the end of the checklist, and we expect that more will sign on in the coming days.

As we can see here (Brazil), here (UK), here (India), and here (U.S.), some publications presented as facts what was just fiction. Sometimes there was no factual support whatsoever. It’s as though William Randolph Hearst was back with us, saying once again, « You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war. »

This kind of thing has happened before, so the misuse of infographics was not totally unexpected. One ostensible excuse was that the Obama White House frequently changed the story of the raid, presenting conflicting pictures day by day.

But a history of incorrect work doesn’t excuse errors these days. And many of the infographics were done so early on that the White House can’t be blamed for what was, after all, an infographics circus.

In this non-stop, 24/7 news world, editors need to practice restraint and not rush with images when the facts are not there.

So here, with the assistance of some of the most creative, most reliable visual journalists in the world, is our checklist for infographics:

1. An infographic is, by definition, a visual display of facts and data. Therefore, no infographic can be produced in the absence of reliable information.

2. No infographic should include elements that are not based on known facts and available evidence.

3. No infographic should be presented as being factual when it is fictional or based on unverified assumptions.

4. No infographic should be published without crediting its source(s) of information.

5. Information graphics professionals should refuse to produce any visual presentation that includes imaginary components designed to make it more « appealing » or « spectacular ». Editors must refrain from asking for graphics that don’t stick to available evidence.

6. Infographics are neither illustrations nor « art ». Infographics are visual journalism and must be governed by the same ethical standards that apply to other areas of the profession.

Juan Antonio Giner (UK) is a founder and president of Innovation International Media Consulting Group; Alberto Cairo is the infographic director of Epoca, a weekly news magazine in Brazil. Here are the names of 58 journalists, design experts from 22 countries, who endorse the statement. (We anticipate adding to the list in a few days).

> Original publication: Nieman Watchdog

Endorsed by:

John Grimwade (USA), graphics director at Conde Nast Publications.
Mario Tascón (Spain), former El Mundo infographics editor.
Nigel Holmes (USA), former graphics director, Time magazine.
Carlos Soria (Spain), chairman of Innovation.
Unar Vegstein (Norway), Afterposten’s head of design.

Mark Porter (UK), Principal, Mark Porter Associates.
Javier Zarracina (USA), Boston Globe’s graphic editor.
Adrian Norris (Canada), managing editor, design and presentation, Globe and Mail.
Jaime Serra (Spain), La Vanguardia’s infographic and illustration editor.
Corrie Parsonson (UK), Context Graphics Limited’s managing editor.

Carmen Riera (Venezuela), graphic editor, Cadena Capriles.
Fernando Baptista (USA), senior graphics editor, National Geographic magazine.
Francesco Franchi (Italy), IL-Intelligence in lifestyle, Il Sole 24 ORE’s art Director.
Andrew Jaspan (Australia), former editor, The Age.
Alvaro Valiño (Spain), Público’s infographics director.

Linda Eckstein (USA), former Information graphics editor, Fortune.
Antonio Martin (Spain), senior desisn consultant, Innovation.
Tonia Cowan (Canada), Globe and Mail’s graphics editor.
Charles Apple (USA), editor, The Visual Side of Journalism’s blog.
Chiqui Esteban (Spain), new narratives editor.

Jan Schwochow (Germany), In Graphics, graphics executive creative director.
Henrique Monteiro (Portugal), former editor of Expresso.
Emilio Deheza (Mexico), formerly Reforma’s graphic director.
Adonis Durado (Oman), design and graphics director, Al Shabiba.
Juantxo Cruz (Spain), El Mundo’s infographics editor.

Luis Chumpitaz (UAE), information graphic director, Al Bayan.
Jonas Dagson (Sweden), infographics editor, Swedish Graphics Agency.
Oscar Santiago Méndez (Mexico), design director, El Universal.
Michael Stoll (Germany) professor of information design, Augsburg University.
Pablo Loscri (Argentina), infograhics director, Clarin.

Miguel Angel Gomez (UAE), design director, Gulf News.
Nick Mrozowski (USA), creative director, Adweek magazine.
Pedro Monteiro (Portugal), digital art coordinator, Impresa Publishing.
Douglas Okasaki (UAE), senior designer Gulf News, and Society for News Design regional director, Middle East and Africa.
Nils Kr. Reppen (Norway), news graphics journalist.

Michael Robinson (UK), head of graphics, The Guardian and The Observer.
Bertrand Pecquerie (France), CEO of the Global Editors Network.
Jeff Goertzen (USA), infographics editor, The Denver Post.
Svenåke Boström (Sweden), former president, Society of News Design.
Alberto Cuadra (USA), graphics editor, The Washington Post.

Grzegorz Piechota (Poland), special projects editor, Gazeta Wyborcza.
Pablo Ramírez (Spain), founder of Sinpalabras.
Miran Pavic (Croatia), editor, Nedjeljni Jutarnji.
Velislava Popova (Bulgaria) editor-in-chief, Dnevnik.
Roger Black (USA), founder, Roger Black studio.

Fabio Sales (Brazil), art director, O Estado de S. Paulo.
Walter Bernard (USA), former art director, Time magazine.
Paul Blickle (Germany), art director, In Graphics.
Spiros Polikandriotis (Greece), senior design consultant, Innovation.
Rich Beckman (USA), Knight chair in visual journalism, University of Miami.

Max Gadney (UK), curator, Design of Understanding conference.
Guillermo Nagore (USA), creative director, SYPartners.
Norvall Skreien (Norway), former president, Society of News Design/Scandinavia.
André Gunthert (France), director of the Laboratoire d’histoire visuelle contemporaine at the Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales.
Gert K.Nielsen (Denmark), editor, VisualJournalism blog.

Rosental Calmon Alves (US), Knight Chair in Journalism, University of Texas at Austin.
Eduardo Asta (Brazil), Infographics editor at Estado de S. Paulo.
Simon Ducroquet (Brazil), Infographics editor at Folha de São Paulo.

Additonal endorsements and comments are of course welcomed. Where appropriate, please include your name, country and position.