“Financial Graphics at Thomson Reuters” - Sam Arnold-Forster at Hacks/Hackers London

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 17 January 2013

Last night was the first Hacks/Hackers London after a break, and it was jam-packed with talks about financial and data journalism. I’ve already posted my notes from Marianne Bouchart’s opening talk. The second slot was taken by people from Thomson Reuters, opening with Sam Arnold-Forster.

“Financial Graphics at Thomson Reuters” by Sam Arnold-Forster

Sam’s talk had a focus on the production of graphics, starting with the simple “flat graphics” similar to those that a newspaper might have in print, to those which involve more interactivity.

He said that a key thing was to focus on simplicity, and abstract out the under-lying story from the data with minimal styling. He said it was important for financial graphics to try and make at the most two points. I was impressed with the crisp simplicity of the designs Sam showed.

Often, Sam said, at the big companies people obsess about having the data and the tools and the technology, but a lot of what they do at the front-end is HTML5/CSS/JavaScript, and anybody can do that.

He explained that the focus on data visualisation was creating an interesting blur in some of the Thomson Reuters products. Datastream, for example, is a subscription product. However, within the interface is a tweet button, and my understanding was that if someone makes a chart and tweets a link from inside the product, clicking that link gives a glimpse to non-subscribers into the previously closed and paywalled world of the Datastream server.

Sam Arnold-Forster says that infographics and visualisations need to be planned as part of the news cycle. As well as encouraging graphics journalists to go to news planning meetings, at Thomson Reuters they are encouraged to form good peer-to-peer relationships with journalists out in the field and in the bureaus. That way if the reporter gets a data-driven story, they have a point of contact to get it translated into graphics.

One question from the floor directed at Sam suggested that all of the graphics had seemed pretty traditional, and wondered if there was a reluctance amongst subscribers for new formats. Sam explained that the customers are generally time-poor and under pressure, so they wanted to use graphics that could help easily tell a story in one picture, rather than have the journalists write the words.

Sam Arnold-Forster did say that he thought more interactive elements “changed the relationship between the producer and the customer” as it had become more direct. Sam did then go on to say that they didn’t really have a measure of success. They have anecdotal evidence that someone emails and says “I really liked that. That was useful. That helped me with my job.”

It struck me that this summed up a problem with the news industry at the moment. No offence to Sam, whose work looked excellent, but here was a news organisation that was all about measuring the success of other companies’ business plans and performance, yet it couldn’t seem to reliably measure the effectiveness of its own content.

Next…

Also on the Hacks/Hackers London bill was another Thomson Reuters speaker — Himanshu Ojha — who was telling the incredibly interesting story behind “The Unequal State of America”. I’ll have my notes from that next…

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