Mixing Art and Journalism – How Publications Are Using Storytelling in News

In a competitive news environment, many publications are looking for opportunities to distinguish their product from the other outlets that are reporting similar if not the exact same news.  These publications are looking to more creative avenues to disseminate stories by mixing art and journalism to bring individuality to their reported pieces.

News organizations like California Watch and the Center for Investigative Reporting are using illustrations to tell serious, in-depth reported pieces.  By mixing artistic renderings in multi-media platforms, these publications are able to bring originality to their stories in a way that other news organizations aren’t.

And this practice isn’t just being used by news outlets.

Former United Nations worker Benjamin Dix spent four years living in Northern Sri Lanka during the civil war that saw the genocide of thousands of civilians in the 2000’s.   After the UN evacuation in 2008, Dix began working on a graphic novel, with the help of illustrator and filmmaker Lindsay Pollock, that combined audio recordings, film clips, and illustrations with photographs taken during his time in the country.  “The Vanni,” is a multi-media graphic novel adapted from the personal testimonies of those who survived the war and it follows them as they seek asylum in England.

During a recent presentation at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Dix explained that he used illustrations instead of just photography to depict a representative family.  Dix continued to say that by using fictional characters he was able to depict every Tamil family instead of just a specific one.

Pieces like California Watch’s “In Jennifer’s Room,” which brings to light the abuses in the state run institutions for the developmentally disabled in California, use illustrations for different reasons.  Although they are still used to tell a graphically detailed story in a way that conveys the emotion of the piece, illustrations were used as a protective shield for the characters in the story.   This technique allowed the reporters, Carrie Ching and Ryan Gabrielson, to conceal the identities of those in the story by using renderings and a narrator instead of blurred out faces and distorted voices, which is what is generally seen on TV.

These stories were able to transcend beyond the page of a newspaper to give life through narration and illustrations to a piece that may have been text-heavy.  The reporters for “In Jennifer’s Room” didn’t have any photos or audio recordings but knew that the story would be better told through an emotional medium.  They decided to use the narrator and illustrations to convey that emotion.

In order to maintain the integrity and reality of the stories, these journalists – Gabrielson, Ching, and Dix, used a variety of reporting tools including court documents and testimonies to stick to the facts of what happened.  Although the images are one illustrator’s perspective of the events, they adhere to the gathered facts of these individual’s lives.  And by utilizing the talents of illustrators, these publications can differentiate themselves from other news outlets while adding a unique touch to their reporting and storytelling.

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and FoxNews.com.
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