Visual journalism helps BBC solve 3 audience challenges

By Amanda Farnsworth

At the BBC, we’ve brought together our TV graphic designers with our specialist multi-media journalists, online designers, and developers to form our visual journalism team. What we want to do is make the most of the talents and experience of each part of the team and together, help them to innovate where TV meets the Web.

We’ve won a lot of awards this year, so we’ve made a good start. But there’s still so much more we can do creatively.

Visual journalism can help with three particular challenges our audience presents us with:

  1. Distinctiveness: It can help us stand out in a world where we may be covering many of the same stories as our competitors.

  2. Modernity: Visual journalism — where we may use our virtual reality studio to put a correspondent on the sea floor, or create a game so our users can try to land the Philae lander on a comet themselves — shows our audience that we are a lively, innovative, modern media outfit.

  3. Understanding (or maybe that should have been first): They say a picture can tell a thousand words. The same can be true of visual journalism.


Our “How to Put a Human on Mars” project saw our TV and online designers working closely together with our in-house science experts and a team of professors from Imperial College London to create an innovative multi-media experience, imagining how mankind could actually get to the Red Planet — and back again.

It marshalled use of 3D models made by a TV designer, our virtual reality studio,again, designed by a TV expert, online graphics, text, and specially shot video.


We are also experimenting with a variety of interactive video formats. One used Mozilla Popcorn to develop a piece about the rise of Islamic State. A timeline embedded in the main video triggered graphics, with which the user could interact.

We have also partnered with a New York company called Touchcast to pilot different forms of interactive video across our news outlets.

We have also upped our data journalism game. BBC NHS Winter tracked the performance of England’s Accident and Emergency units at major hospitals over a four-month period last winter, updating our data every week. We are doing it again this year.

A simple postcode search allows our users to see how their local hospital is performing against the targets set by the government. We found stories with the project that were carried across our TV and radio outlets. That’s news you can use.

As mobile traffic now regularly outrates traffic from desktop, we have begun to think mobile first in almost everything we do.

#BBCGoFigure is a daily infographic we produce primarily for social media platforms and post on our major BBC News accounts. Written in a less formal tone, it has a key stat on a big story designed to entice the light news user back to our site. We now do them in eight languages for the different services of the BBC.


Finally, I became known at the recent INMA conference in Tallinn as the speaker with the vomiting cat. If you want to know why, Google “BBC News The Secret Life of Cats,” click on the ginger cat called Orlando, and watch his video.

There are worse things to be known for, aren’t there? 

About Amanda Farnsworth

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