THE POWER OF REPORTING

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Some simple-looking graphics are the hardest to produce. In the month that I've spent as director for Infographics at Editora Globo (Sao Paulo, Brazil) and its weekly Época, the one above is among the best we've done. It's title is Waiting for Sanctity, and it deals with the fact that even if Brazil is the country with a largest number of catholics in the world, it only has 2 saints, with around 70 people waiting in line to be considered for that position. It was published right before the start of the Holy Week, in April.

It seems to be a pretty straightforward project. So why do I consider it special and why was it hard to produce?

Many of the graphics that we do and see every day in newspapers and magazines are based on information provided by an official source. Época, Globo's weekly news magazine, is no exception to that trend. Think, for instance, of those gorgeous infographics on the latest NASA spaceship, go to the bottom of them and see the sources. Bingo: NASA in 90% of cases.

Few graphics (too few, for my taste) are based on actual, original reporting. The saints graphic is one of those. Infographics with information that cannot be found anywhere else can make a difference in the current saturated news environment, so we should invest more on them. Maybe they won't win awards because they are not that flashy or innovative from a technical standpoint; in fact, this work relies on pretty basic and common forms: a table with pictures, bar charts, and a bubble map (proportional symbol, if you are a cartography nerd). This kind of job won't increase the number of colorful diplommas on your wall but, boy, what impact they can have on your readership: in general, I find a not-so-fancy graphic based on proper reporting more satisfying than another that's very beautiful and heavily illustrated with tons of 3D, animation, and interactivity, but based on information anyone can get from the Wikipedia.

So, the reporting. The first challenge in any project is to decide what the focus is going to be. Right, you know you want to do a graphic on brazilian saints, but that is not enough. You need a story, a focus to guide your research. And the story could be sumarized in this case as something like: "even if Brazil has the largest number of catholics in the world, it only has two saints; no pope has done anything to fix this situation. In fact, the two or three latest ones have sanctified hundreds of people in Asia, but only a few in South America". That's the evidence we wanted to make visible to our readers at a glance.

Based on suggestions I made on what to look for, most of the research for the graphic was made by Eliseu Barreira a very talented inten. The rest, the data that can be gathered from the Vatican and other easy-to-access sources (number of saints by country in the past two pontificates, chronology of saints by pope, etc.) was done in the graphics department. This doesn't mean it was not hard: the Vatican has just a list of names and biographies, not a good summary of how many saints belong to each country, so we had to painstakingly count them, as you can see in this page of my own notes:

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Eliseu's work was to find out who the brazilian candidates in the canonization row are. Easy? Think again. There's not a database with all the names. You have to contact the dioceses that started the processes one by one by phone or e-mail. At the end, we could figure out the 36 most relevant ones, out of a total of 70 (we got that round number from one of our sources, an expert on these matters). Eliseu can take credit of 50% or more of the sucess of this piece!

After you get the information right, doing the graphic is pretty easy. Based on the preliminary research, I made some simple layouts in Illustrator. This is one of them (click on the image):

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Marco Vergotti, head of the infographics department at Época, gave shape to the sketches; in one day after the reporting and planning was finished, we ended up with the version that was published in the magazine. As I said, I foresee that this won't win any awards, but who cares. It makes us feel proud! I believe it is an example of honest work: clear, simple, deep, and straight to the point (click on the image):

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If you want to see more graphics we made that same week, download a complete report here (in Spanish).