Graphics journalism as real journalism

I tried but failed to register a comment this morning on an article carried by the Global Editors Network about how the Guardian covered US elections.

Something to do with captcha errors that I couldn’t be fussed to wrestle with. The piece was all about the whizzy things done by Gabriel Dance and his team, which seemed fine enough as far as they went but hardly very illuminating politically.

So this is what I said in reply:

“fun”, “interesting”, “creative”, “engaging”, and “different” – these are fine things in the race to capture eyeballs but they’re only of any use, from a journalism perspective, if the work informs and illuminates the audience about the underlying political realities. Otherwise it’s just showbiz.

So be all these things to get people to pay attention to the elections but also take some more steps back from the razzamatazz of the two main presidential candidates, their parties and the campaigns for all the other elected posts. Don’t get carried away with the wrapping, remember the substance.

I would like, for example, to see the real-time graphics comparing pledges in presidential debates to the realities. Obama or Romney says “security” – I want to see the graphics asking the question: “who’s security” and pointing to areas of US military actions around the world, including drone strikes and detentions. Inviting tweets from people in those countries might produce some interesting dialogues. Get beyond narrow debate parameters set by the candidates, remember your journalistic responsibility to people, not just US voters either.

The candidates mention budget priorities – I want to see graphics about the numbers of US voters in poverty and how that has evolved in recent years, next door to graphics showing subsidies to banks and financial markets (including bail-outs), to fossil fuel companies, to agro-industries and the military-industrial complex as well of estimates about the scale of tax evasion by individuals and companies.

Also, as backgrounders, I want to see graphics showing the running totals of campaign spend, Democrat and Republican, official and de facto, and where that money is coming from, where it’s being spent (TV adverts, etc) and which media conglomerates benefit. You could also invite people to tweet in about how they think winning and losing candidates might go about rewarding their sponsors after the election.

Graphics innovations and their delivery over the internet, not least via social media and to mobile devices worldwide, open up the possiblity of some fascinating global conversations that could better inform people about the realities of US politics, any politics in fact. They could be a great tool in bringing about what Dan Gillmor talked about in “We the Media” – of grassroots journalism turning old media’s lecture into a conversation. Your commenters and tweeters are part of those grassroots.