A growing call for higher standards in infographics

Having seen a great deal of buzz caused by the Stephen Few/David McCandless/Flowing Datadiscussions a few weeks ago, a new fascinating debate is emerging from within the infographics/visual journalism field. 

In an era where visual accompaniments to breaking news coverage are almost as in demand as the journalist’s copy itself, it seems the breaking news of Osama Bin Laden’s death last week has pushed the effectiveness and discipline of infographic design into the spotlight.

The Nieman Watchdog site has published an article and impressive list of endorsements by Juan Antonio Giner (President of the Innovation International Media Consulting Group) and Alberto Cairo (Director of Infographics at Época) who propose 6 key rules to protect the legitmacy and quality of infographic/visual journalism practice:

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.

These are the 6 rules they propose

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.

To see a gallery and read the analysis of some of the graphics produced and published about Bin Laden’s Death visit the always-excellent Visual Journlism website. You should keep a close eye on how this discussion develops.

With healthy, ongoing introspection about the effectiveness of visualisation and these two critical and constructive debates openly emerging, I suspect we will later view this period as a defining time in this field.

Part 4: The essential collection of visualisation resources

The contents of this post are now published on the interactive Resources page