Graphics journalism is exactly what it sounds like - words and images united with journalistic process. It’s an emerging form of visual storytelling, and with its rich visual culture, Tumblr (and specifically, Storyboard - Tumblr’s home for original feature content) is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the medium as it slowly becomes mainstream.
Tumblr could do for comics journalism what it’s already done for the animated gif.
Let’s back up a bit.
A Very Brief History of Comics Journalism
Dan Archer’s What is Comics Journalism? is an excellent introduction to the space. The word “comic” comes loaded with associations that might lead people to dismiss graphic journalism is trivial (or worse, in opposition to “real” journalism), but as Archer points out, “there is a rich tradition of long-form visual news narrative from all over the world.”
Comics, illustrations and visual culture on Tumblr
Forgive me while I state the obvious: Tumblr is home to an incestuous community of illustrators, writers, and graphic artists.
Seriously - there’re people on here who can whip up a hand-painted animated gif of a live cultural event cross-overed with three different fandoms faster than you can say “TommyPom!” It’s almost disturbing.
Let’s Arm Everyone! by Matt Bors
We’re also home to heavyweights in editorial cartooning and people who’re doing really interesting things in comics journalism, such as Pulitzer finalist Matt Bors, and Symbolia, a “tablet magazine of illustrated journalism.”
Basically, if we wanted to get serious about this, we have a daunting stable of talent to draw from. Get it? See what I did there?! IT’S DRAW FROM BECAUSE IT’S…I’ll stop. :/
We also already have a culture of “explainer slides” or “powerpoints” that take advantage of the photoset functionality - everything from Learn to read Korean in 15 minutes (79,000+ notes), to, well…British actors who are ruining my life right now (5,800+ notes).
This is stuff that is already a part of our Tumblr DNA.
A few words about Storyboard
Storyboard finally clicked for me with this article about the Sesame Street episode on divorce, which was jointly produced with TIME.com.
That was when Storyboard went from “some Tumblr project” to “wait…are they…oh my God they are. They’re shooting to become a media company. O_O”
I’m speculating here - I don’t know whether Tumblr actually sees itself as a weird hybrid of LiveJournal, deviantART, 4chan, Reddit, Pinterest, Buzzfeed and the New York Times. What I do know is that I don’t remember the last time a piece of long-form writing made me cry, but that day, those words about Sesame Street conspired to make me weep.
tl;dr - Reasons why Storyboard should employ graphics journalism in its storytelling
- Tumblr-people are already intimately familiar with graphic storytelling. I’m willing to bet that we’re far more likely to read and share a compelling comics/news article-thing than read a super long text post.
- Storyboard is attempting to carve a niche for itself in a saturated attention marketplace. Why should I read a Storyboard article over something from Boing Boing, or the Daily What, or Newsweek, or any of the other million options out there in a world where we’re all publishers Embracing graphic journalism would be a powerful differentiator. Even better, it takes full advantage of a feature and a culture (the photoset) that is entirely Tumblr.
- Empirical and anecdotal evidence suggests that graphic journalism does very well. In a session on illustrated journalism at last year’s Online News Association conference, major figures in the comics journalism space explained how editors have found that people read a comic all the way through (as opposed to reading text-only posts only mid-way), that readers describe the experience as an exhale - a pause from the barrage of information on the internet, and that people reading a comic engage with the site for a longer period.
An outline of how it would work
It would be worth adhering to Erin Polgreen’s editorial policy for Symbolia - she requires illustrated pieces to have a strong sense of place, as well as a strong character or narrative being explored.
This means that not all stories would work as comics, but many would. Three thoughts on how to do the first story:
- A three-parter, spread across three posts, with a beginning, middle and end that keeps people hooked over time.
- Set in New York, highlighting local neighborhoods.
- Strong characters that people can cheer for. The story should probably be around a social justice issue - something that people can get emotionally invested in. Maybe something about Occupy? Comics allow people to be humanized in a way that text or photography cannot.
So that’s it - that’s my thinking about why Storyboard should embrace graphic journalism, not for every post, but enough that it becomes synonymous with the publication. As comics journalism slowly becomes mainstream, Storyboard is perfectly positioned to own the medium within this window of opportunity.
Thank you for reading.
- My notes from the 2012 ONA session: Blowing Up The Funny Pages: Why Comics Make For Powerful Journalism
- On Storyboard as Tumblr’s play to be a media company: Is it marketing or is it journalism? The case of Tumblr’s ‘Storyboard’
- Twitter list of graphic journalists (a work in progress)
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