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IV International Future Media Forum: People like non-standard types of visualization

Non-conventional approaches to news presentation, various visualization tools such as animated maps, interactive charts and tables, long texts broken into units, and analytical journalism are the main trends in modern journalism, according to the speakers at the IV International Future Media Forum.

The international forum is taking place for the fourth time this year, convening editors, journalists, media experts, technologists, business people and specialists to discuss the possibilities of greater transparency and interactivity in journalism, the use of digital technology and their role in the editorial work.

Data visualization

 "The Financial Times is very quantitative; numbers, graphics, charts - these are things that we as journalists are good at and interested in but also these are things that our readership demands. They want facts, they want numbers," said John Burn-Murdoch, data journalist on the Financial Times' Interactive News Desk. "Our role, as the interactive team in particular, is split across different types of visualization, different types of output. So we've got maps, we've got charts, we've got narrative graphics; and by that I mean graphics that lead you through a story step-by-step where it may be easier and more efficient to do that visually than it would simply to write a few blocks of text; timelines and calculators."

 "We are finding new, innovative, fresh ways of telling stories, of carrying out journalism, both aimed at our existing audience and aiming to attract a new readership, perhaps a younger readership, a more vibrant readership," the journalist added.

The Financial Times recently created an interactive graphic on Barcelona's Argentina star Lionel Messi that shows "how impressive his performance has been."

"People like this stuff. They are intelligent; they want to be tested," Burn-Murdoch said. And so, producing high-quality and often non-standard, new visualizations is something we are already trying to do. An example of that is a series that we've started doing on statistics in sport. The challenge for us working on the sporting statistics series is that, yes, we're using data, we're using numbers, we're using analysis to find these stories, but it needs to read when we've written the story, when we've produced the graphic. It needs to read to you as a sports fan as if it's just been written by another sports fan, not as if this is some mathematician coming in and trying to muscle in on the sport that you love."

He also cited a recent FT story with a scatter plot comparing tennis's three main playing surfaces - the hard courts, the grass courts and the clay courts, and how the characteristics of those different surfaces lead to different styles of playing tennis by players such as Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.

"What we wanted to do was use a sort of intricate, a new, a detailed visualization to show the point that we're making. This was about using an interactive visualization, using a scatter plot, using a non-standard type of visualization to tell a story, so that the reader feels that they, as a fan of that sport, can just enjoy it rather than thinking that we are coming up with any outside perspectives," the British journalist said.

The Financial Times also uses animated maps, where the user can click a specific point on the screen to navigate to additional information on the location or a link to related content.

"Your attitude as an interactive data journalist is also essential: the knowledge that you're in a quickly changing industry, but also the acceptance and enthusiasm for learning new skills on the job," Burn-Murdoch concluded.

Structured Journalism

David Cohn, Executive Producer of AJ+ and founding editor at Circa innovative resource, urged the audience to experiment without fear and try innovative news presentation models.

"The thing that I think is important when it comes to experimenting is to keep in mind this general rule of the Internet: which is that it is cheaper and easier to try something than it is to debate about whether or not to try something. It is the idea of failing often, but from those failures, pivoting and trying to figure out what did work and working from that," he said.

One of the cutting-edge trends, in his view, is "structured journalism."

"What we've done in structured journalism is, instead of writing an article we break down news into what we call atomic units," the expert explained. These are facts, quotes, statistics, events, images, audio clips. We can do video clips and we could think of more atomic units. And on the second day, we don't write a new article. We just write a new atomic unit and we put that somewhere in the thread. What's really powerful about this is that we don't have to repeat ourselves anymore when we get new information."

However, this method may face many opponents, he said, who think that "these units are very short" and "have no context."

 "You could right now read 6,000 words on what's happening in West Africa in Ebola and you get a lot of information from those 6,000 words. Or you can read 600 words at Circa or AJ+ right now and decide to follow the story and every day get another 100 words," Cohn said. "And that means overtime - over three months, over four months, you would have read well over 6,000 words and each one of those would give you more context . It's ongoing; I understand from day to day how this is developing. It's the idea of long form time-shifted."

 "It's the idea of a relationship with the reader and addressing their information needs over a long period of time," he said, adding that this also helps the monetization of the content.

 "It's a very powerful tool - we can do that around quotes, we can do that around places that events have taken place, we can do that around images. That's a really powerful concept. It gives us a way to think about the news differently," he said.

Analysis: main trend

Veronika Krasheninnikova, Head of the Center for International Journalism and Research at Rossiya Segodnya, emphasized the importance of analytic journalism.

"In the last few years we have seen growing interest in analytical programs. Dmitry Kiselev's weekly news show Vesti Nedeli on Rossiya 1 tops the ratings according to the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM)," she said.

"Also, there has been a sharp growth in public interest in political information over the last 12 months, along with growing demand for high-quality journalism, deeper analysis from a stronger civil stance," she added.

According to the expert, the degree of public trust in journalists has also grown lately. "Journalists still bear responsibility for the reliability of their information," she said, adding that they must also be able to explain complex things in simple terms.

The discussion of the future media market will also involve representatives from associations and professional unions of journalists from Russia and other countries.

The Future Media Forum gives its participants a unique opportunity to learn about the successful experience of Western teams firsthand and directly ask questions that are of interest to the Russian media community.


The issues for discussion will include "Why the media cannot survive without technology," "Drone journalism - new forms of storytelling," "The latest trends in data visualization" and "Next-generation services for media."