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Introduction to the Generic Visuals in the News project through Existing Data Sets III.


Considering the audience

by Camilla Mørk Røstvik : 

The audience is always in the mind of data visualisers and stock photographers for commercial and communication reasons. Creators are anxious of appearing patronising, boring, or, worst of all, misinforming. There is optimism about growing data literacy due to social media and new generation’s use of online platforms, which has encouraged creators to make more complex graphs and images. The downside to this is an intense fear of being part of ‘fake news’ stories or having work appropriated beyond recognition and original intent. A big part of the Generic Visuals in the News project is to better understand how audiences assemble around images, and how collective interpretation shapes their varied views on news.

From the content creator side, ‘simplicity’ was the gold standard for good communication with audiences. Data visualizers wanted to avoid alienating audiences with an adverse relationship to science and mathematics, because they understood their work to still have a strong link to both. Simplicity, according to creators, ensured that audiences would not be scared by numbers, but rather begin to learn and even enjoy them.

In order to understand their audiences, creators have various ways of accessing feedback: tracking time spent viewing images, benchmark analysis, social media interaction, peer research, and daily audience samples. Throughout the Generic Visuals in the News project, we are interested in understanding how creators think about their audiences in terms of understanding images, and how audiences in turn may align with or transgress against their assumptions.

We also want to track the ways in which the new generation of data visualisers are passionate about statistical literacy, numeracy and transparency, and are deeply concerned about the growth of ‘fake news’ discourses. In this way, they are both innovative creators and anxious educators, balancing many roles in their work to illuminate complex news stories.

In stark contrast, stock photographers largely have no contact with or control over how audiences react. They are severed from their creation, and only receive feedback from the organisation that purchases and circulates their images. Visual content providers often do not give any specific reasons for rejecting or accepting photographs, so photographers have to develop a more intuitive and reflexive approach with only minimum access to what works and not. The Generic Visuals in the News project seeks to understand how this influences the iconography of stock photography, and the ways in which it may be understood by audiences.

In sum, the audience is incredibly important to all of the creators interviewed for these existing data sets. As we begin our research and interviews for the Generic Visuals in the News project, we look forward to examining all of these interlinked themes and more in conversation with creators and audiences.