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.
Canva.com 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 http://infogr.am. 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)
http://piktochart.com/ has more flexibility than Infogr.am and the professional account is just $40 a year for nonprofits. I like Infogr.am for straightforward graphics; Piktochart for everything else. (Pam Dempsey, Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)
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: http://search.creativecommons.
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)
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!