Data Visualization and Photo Resources For Your Visual Journalism Toolkit

Improving the visuals on your site can have a dramatic difference in how your stories are received and how they spread, but we find that many INN members do not have photographers on staff or the budget to invest in complex data-driven news applications and visualizations.

One of our goals with Largo, the open source WordPress framework we've developed for INN members, is to make it much easier for members to have websites that look as good and function as well as the best for-profit and larger non-profit publishers.

This summer we're planning to do some work on making it easier to tell stories visually in Largo and as part of that process we wanted to do a survey of tools that members are already using in the hopes that we can identify some best practices and develop tools, resources and training to make it easy as possible to integrate them with your website.

Our goal is to help journalists to use data and other visual elements to enhance their investigations and storytelling.

A quick side-note: if you use Largo and/or are interested in helping us to figure out how to improve the framework and build tools to support your data and visual storytelling, we're putting together a working group to help us define the work we need to do to make your lives easier. Please drop us a line if you're willing to help us out this summer as we work through this process.

Here are some of the tools we've found so far that may end up as part of the toolkit that we recommend to our members and other journalists.

For quick, basic plots

Check out Visualizer, a WordPress plugin, and Datawrapper, an open-source tool that will provide you code to embed visualizations in your posts. Both tools have the basic types of visualizations (pie chart, bar graph, scatterplot, map, etc.) which you can create by importing a CSV or Excel file. Both are also easy to use, even if you're not very tech savvy and they incorporate some nice default design patterns.

Choose Visualizer if you would like to work with a WordPress plugin or Datawrapper if you don’t mind working with embedded code.

Another great tool for simple charts is ChartBuilder, an open source tool developed by Quartz. This tool allows you to create simple charts and then either copy the html for the chart or export it as an image to use in your stories.

For the data ninja

If you have complex data or want to showcase your data in ways other than with simple graphs and charts, spend some time with tools such as StoryMapJS, TimelineJS, Vis, or Kumu - which are all already compatible with WordPress/Largo by using an embed code (usually an iframe) within your stories.

As their names imply, StoryMapJS and TimelineJS help you create maps and timelines, respectively, to illustrate your data through space and time. Both were developed by the Knight Lab at Northwestern University so they're both designed with journalism applications in mind.

For network and relationship data, there is Vis and Kumu. Both tools are interactive and flexible and easy to use and Vis was designed particularly with journalists in mind.

For the code-savvy

Many of our members do not have an in-house developer, but for those team members interested in learning to code and to use one of the hottest data visualization tools today, you might want to try the d3.js WordPress plugin, Wp-D3.

With D3 you can create any type of visualization you can possibly imagine and make it interactive, too. You might also want to check out NVD3, which also has a WordPress plugin. The developers of this tool were inspired by D3 to create re-usable visualizations.

Recommendations from members

We also heard from some INN member organizations about a few other data visualization tools they like to use.  is great, free, way to make infographics. I've used it to create a graphic on a health care report card. It took about 10 minutes. I'm playing with it to make a customized NCHN template for when I have data like bar charts or graphs (make the bar chart background transparent in photoshop and drop it on the template background. (Rose Hoban, North Carolina Health News)

Another one that's extremely easy to use  for infographics is They have many templates to choose from. It's free also but to remove their branding and attach your logo you have to upgrade and pay a little monthly fee.  (Jeremy Chapman, Montana Center for Investigative Reporting) has more flexibility than and the professional account is just $40 a year for nonprofits. I like for straightforward graphics; Piktochart for everything else. (Pam Dempsey, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)

Photo resources

It can also be difficult to find photos to use if you don't have a photographer on your staff or freelance budget to create original photography to go with your stories. Here are some photo resources members recommended if you need to find photos that are free to use.

Getty Images allows many of its photos to be embedded. (Jason Alcorn, Investigate West) They've got gorgeous photos. It doesn't work all the time, but when it does it's a great money saver. (Diane Schemo, 100 Reporters)

Another good source for stock photography is Free Images (formerly Stock.xchng) and you can search Creative Commons images from various sources here: Aaronson, Florida Center for Investigative Reporting)

I love using U.S. government images, which almost never have copyright or licensing requirements. The portal I go through is here, which will also get you to state photo archive pages.  You'll find subject and agency links there. (Naomi Schalit, Pine Tree Watchdog)

The Library of Congress has a nice collection of digital images you can browse. Useful for historical photos or #TBT. Most of the images are free to use but check the copyrights to be sure (Pam Dempsey, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)

Many Flickr users share their photos under a Creative Commons license, which allows anyone to use those photos under certain conditions (have to attribute, no derivative works, and non-commercial use only are the main three). Use Flickr advanced search to search only Creative Commons-licensed photos then look at individual photos to check for any of those conditions. No pre-clearance from photographers required. (Jason Alcorn, Investigate West)

Flickr also has this site called "The Commons" which includes a repository of public photography from all over the world. (Luis Gomez, INN)

Your suggestions

We hope you found some new tools and resources in the list above to help with your work. Let us know if you have other tools or resources for visual journalism that you would recommend to other INN members!

Join Us For The December News Nerd Book Club Hangout

Naked StatisticsThanks to everyone who came to our hangout last week and to everyone who responded to our survey to pick the next book for our News Nerd Book Club!

The book for the December meeting will be Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan.

The December meeting will again be held via Google Hangout on Wednesday, December 10, at 1pm ET (we're going to stick to 1pm ET on the second Wednesday of the month from now on unless we're meeting in person at a conference).

The invite and link to RSVP is here (and here's the direct link to the hangout for quick reference).

Just a reminder that you can suggest future books you'd like to read over on our reading list hackpad.

Hope to see you on December 10. Happy reading!

Introducing the INN Toolbox

If you've ever found yourself wishing for a list of reporting, data and visualization resources among INN members, today is your lucky day! We are happy to bring you the INN Toolbox, a collection of searchable databases, Github repos, APIs, embeddable widgets and more that can help with reporting and online presentation.

Use our searchable database to find tools such as:

  • Are these temperatures normal? Code available on Github from MinnPost that adds context to the temperature in your area by calculating how far above/below average your area is for the day, week, month and season. Updates every hour.
  • Barking Owl. A scalable web crawler intended to be used to find specific document types such as PDFs. From the Rochester Hacks and Hackers group that works closely with INN member Innovation Trail.
  • Influence Explorer. A collaboration among INN members Sunlight Foundation, National Institute for Money in State Politics and the Center for Responsive Politics, Influence Explorer connects the dots of political contributions on the federal and state level allowing you to track influence by lawmaker, company or prominent individual.

The INN Toolbox will be continually updated, and we'd love for you to contribute. There is an online form to add resources from your newsroom or tools that you find helpful.

You can visit the INN Toolbox here.

Finding Data During The Government Shutdown

Reporters across the country are running into a frustrating effect of the federal government shutdown: Many .gov websites have been shuttered, blocking access to some go-to data sources such as the Census Bureau.

But there is some hope of finding the data you need. Investigative Reporters and Editors set up a tracker for reporters to contribute or find information about alternative places to find popular datasets. And IRE's NICAR Database Library remains open throughout the shutdown. (Any INN members interested in data from the library can contact me at

Check out these tips on tracking down data offered by IRE staffers Liz Lucas and Tony Schick:

In partnership with the Reynolds Journalism Institute, IRE offers free Census data to browse or download at You can also visit the Census Reporter website for more Census-related information.

NICAR maintains an array of federal datasets to keep you warm during the shutdown. Check out these favorites:

  • OSHA Workplace Safety data -- how much does OSHA get done even when they are at full staff? Look at inspection and accident records by industry, location, or business.
  • National Bridge Inventory -- this data has a wealth of information on bridges in the United States, including their status (are they structurally deficient?) and a sufficiency rating.
  • IRS Exempt Organizations -- peruse a listing of all organizations granted tax exemption by the IRS.
  • Medical Device Reports -- sift through records that includes information about problems that occurred with medical devices, including injuries, deaths and/or product malfunctions.
  • Look through the rest of the 40+ databases offered at the NICAR Database Library.

The Donald W. Reynolds Center for Business Journalism also compiled a list of alternative data sources (including NICAR data), available here. Information portals still available include EDGAR, PACER and FRED.