Can news be made more accessible? You bet! Is the mainstream news media trying to do this? Probably not. When the mainstream media urges people to become more informed citizens by reading/viewing more of their product, we here at News With Numbers think this sounds like a dying industry asking people to consume more because it’s good for them. It’s like trying to sell cod liver oil. We believe the news media should instead seek to make a product that’s easier to consume. That’s what we’re doing here.
We believe that years of professional journalism has created an industry that’s primarily staffed by people who are more verbally aligned than the rest of the country. Pages in print or online are measured by the number of words, an easy measurement to be sure, but this removes any incentive to say the same thing with fewer words, to perhaps say the same thing in pictures. Good wordsmiths are praised and promoted, mediocre wordsmiths are ignored or overlooked and perhaps leave the industry. Mediocre wordsmiths who are adept at graphics could be diamonds in the rough who are lost in this process.
Studies indicate that among the general population, 65% of people are Visual learners, 20% are Auditory/Verbal learners and 15% are Kinesthetic learners. In 2003 a company called Animators at Law commissioned a study to compare the learning styles of attorneys to those of the general public. Their study showed that attorneys are less likely to learn visually than the general public, with the implication that if attorneys rely solely on rhetoric to persuade a jury they will fail 80% of the time. We believe that the journalism industry is similarly lopsided and that the consumers of standard journalism products are similarly unpersuaded.
Thus we believe that a better news product can be made if it relies more on a visual approach to conveying information. The works of Edward Tufte provides both a key to the successful implementation of this concept as well as criticism of poor or misguided attempts at incorporating graphics in the news.
A positive example of Edward Tufte’s approach is his discussion on the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. A portion of his treatment is reproduced in this blog here. Another example of how an expert can convince you that something is true, without boring you (we hope) or make you an expert in the process is summarized in this article. And a critical commentary on how poorly the standard news media is using graphics to convey information is discussed here.
We hope you like what we here at News With Numbers are trying to do. Currently we are a very small operation and are funded entirely by a volunteer effort. If you like what you see let us know. Subscribe to the site or comment on some of the articles or send me an email. Visible support will convince us we are on the right track.