Worth a Thousand Words: Inside the ‘NYT’ Graphics Department

Short film tracks rise of every kind of visual

Words are not enough—but in some ways, they're more important than ever. That's my main takeaway from this Gestalten TV profile of the graphics department at The New York Times. Filmed in 2010, the clip has garnered renewed attention through a Vimeo posting, and it's worth revisiting for insights on storytelling in an age where screens are everywhere and visually rich platforms like Pinterest have captured the public's fancy. Naturally, adding clarity to text is a primary focus for NYT graphics chief Steve Duenes and editor Archie Tse. They drive home the point that visual materials—animations, charts, infographics—are no longer flashy extras but intrinsic elements of modern reportage. These guys aren't tech jockeys who play with software all day; they're news gatherers in their own right. Example: Tse recounts a 2003 trip to Iraq, where he used a sketchpad to capture details of ongoing operations that were quickly translated to cyberspace. Likewise, in the weeks following 9/11, the team typically worked 14-hour days to provide informative and often stirring depictions of the horror that had taken place at Ground Zero. The editors stress the fusion of words and pictures, emphasizing that great graphics can rarely exist in the absence of superior text, since each amplifies and strengthens the other to build something greater than the sum of their parts. Consider Neil Armstrong describing his descent to the lunar surface as "One giant leap for mankind," or newsreel footage of the Hindenburg's fiery finish accompanied by a reporter plaintive cry of "Oh, the humanity!" In either case, would the narrations or images alone have been as powerful? Today, words and pictures (meaning graphic representations of all kinds) are fast becoming inseparable, and providing one without giving adequate attention to the other is akin to telling half the story.

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