Tips of the Trainer: A graphic illustration - Press Gazette

Tips of the Trainer: A graphic illustration

Cleland Thom on the importance of graphics to your page design and presentation

Graphics are important because we live in a visual age. People are used to looking at images on their televisions and PCs.

As a result, most national newspapers use graphics all the time, whether to indicate the size of the swing of public opinion against Tony Blair or the latest troop movements in Iraq.

Local newspapers tend to shy away from them – maybe due to lack of resources. But graphics can play an important role on their news, sport and feature pages.

Firstly, they help to inform readers, making facts easier to grasp. A picture is worth a thousand words. To describe the route being taken by a man who is hitch-hiking round the world would take several pars – and readers probably wouldn’t bother to read them.

But a simple arrowed map gets the details home in an instant.

Secondly, graphics help to explain complex issues. A graph setting out the ups and downs of interest rates over the past 12 months makes a far clearer point than a story ever could.

There are different types of graphic:

A chart: a graph, a pie chart or a table which sets information out simply.
A locator – a map, with relevant areas arrowed or amplified.
An analysis – a diagram, or series of diagrams, explaining how things work, how something happened or a process.
A news aid – a diagram or picture used alongside a story as a way of explaining or interpreting a point.

The use of graphics presents all kinds of training implications:

1. We need to move away from the idea that the “art department” deals with graphics. This is slow and expensive and artists cannot always grasp journalists’ requirements. It is better to have journalists who are trained in art – or artists who are qualified journalists.

2. Journalists need to be prepared to learn software systems like Adobe Illustrator and Aldus Freehand.

3. News editors must consider whether a story needs a graphic, just as they decide whether it needs a photo.

4. Reporters need to think in terms of graphics when covering stories. For instance, when they are covering a big road accident, they will need to find additional information on top of the which, what, when, where, why and how. They will need to know the colours and makes of vehicles, the points of impact, the length of the skid marks, the width of the road etc. These may all be needed for a graphic. Reporters also need to remember to include graphic memos on their stories, as well as picture memos.

5. Subs needs to be aware of the opportunities that graphics provide in page design.

Cleland Thom runs Journalism Training Services ( and can be contacted at

by Cleland Thom