Infographics: Facts, not Fiction


Some experts who care about and practice visual news have sharp complaints about the non-factual graphics that were so widespread in the media’s coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1 (2011).

Journalism is a serious business where credibility is paramount. Editors need, first and foremost, to get the facts right, in graphics as well as text and video.

What happened last week was that some editors, given a sensational story and little detail, acted as if they were in show business, not the news business. Graphics often were flashy and hyped and very inventive – good show business – but if they portrayed what actually happened, it was only by accident.

In this article, we offer six rules to ensure that editors follow basic, ethical journalism standards in presentation of infographics. It’s a statement in the form of a checklist. Fifty-eight journalists, all of them highly regarded in the field, have endorsed the statement. Their names are listed at the end of the checklist, and we expect that more will sign on in the coming days.

As we can see here (Brazil), here (UK), here (India), and here (U.S.), some publications presented as facts what was just fiction. Sometimes there was no factual support whatsoever. It’s as though William Randolph Hearst was back with us, saying once again, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

This kind of thing has happened before, so the misuse of infographics was not totally unexpected. One ostensible excuse was that the Obama White House frequently changed the story of the raid, presenting conflicting pictures day by day.

But a history of incorrect work doesn’t excuse errors these days. And many of the infographics were done so early on that the White House can’t be blamed for what was, after all, an infographics circus.

In this non-stop, 24/7 news world, editors need to practice restraint and not rush with images when the facts are not there.

So here, with the assistance of some of the most creative, most reliable visual journalists in the world, is our checklist for infographics:

1. An infographic is, by definition, a visual display of facts and data. Therefore, no infographic can be produced in the absence of reliable information.

2. No infographic should include elements that are not based on known facts and available evidence.

3. No infographic should be presented as being factual when it is fictional or based on unverified assumptions.

4. No infographic should be published without crediting its source(s) of information.

5. Information graphics professionals should refuse to produce any visual presentation that includes imaginary components designed to make it more “appealing” or “spectacular”. Editors must refrain from asking for graphics that don’t stick to available evidence.

6. Infographics are neither illustrations nor “art”. Infographics are visual journalism and must be governed by the same ethical standards that apply to other areas of the profession.

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Originally posted 2017-05-04 11:24:12.

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