Interview met Anne-Lise Bouyer

Anne-Lise Bouyer (FR) is the COO of Journalism++, an agency for data driven storytelling. In September she will run a workshop on free tools to visualise data. Anne-Lise: ’Data journalism and visualisation are for anyone who has a story to tell’.

Graphic Hunters: What is your role at Journalism++ and in what projects are you involved?
Anne-Lise Bouyer: I am the project manager, which means that I am involved in all the projects. I am the link between the clients and our team, I manage the budgets and the planning. I am also working very closely to the developpers, handle the projects design, write the specifications and then the testing and issues reporting.

What is the power of a good visualisation? In what way can a visualisation help to understand or to communicate information?
Visualize your data will help you to communicate your story in making it faster readable and more easily understandable than an article. Plus, the users are more willing to share a visualisation on social networks or other. But visualise your data can also help you, as a journalist to understand the data and find an angle for your story.A data visualisation is not a piece of art; the purpose is that the user remember the content and not the style. To tell a story, it’s essential to create a sober visualization, in a “less is more” way.

I have read that someone has to understand a visualisation within seconds, others say visualisations should leave something to explore. What is your opinion on this?
What is important is to make the distinction between simple visualisations and complex visualisations. Both are very useful and powerful when they are used correctly. For instance, as a journalist, if you need to illustrate your article with a simple line chart showing the evolution of the number of marriage, no need to leave something to explore. Within seconds your reader can see if this number is increasing or not.
Sometimes your data are more complex and you have to create a complex visualisation, like this one for instance – showing the repartition of donations to political parties.
In both cases, visualisations don’t tell stories by themselves. Don’t wait for your readers to analyse the data. Tell them the story behind it!

What is the first most important question one should ask before starting visualising the data?
Before starting visualising data, you should ensure that your data are clean and machine readable. Which means that they are understandable by a computer and that then can be visualised. Then you can start to visualize it, not necessarily to directly publish it but first to find an angle to your story and to help you to find which stories are hidden behind the data.

What (free or paid) tools are important to learn when you want to work with visualisations?
Some great online tools to create simple from complex visualisations: Chartbuilder, Highcharts Cloud, Datawrapper and Cartodb.com for the maps.

What’s the biggest mistake often made in visualisations?
It’s definitely the mistake to put design over message. Graphic design and journalism are two different fields, and unless you have extraordinary skills in both – which is rare – these two shouldn’t be mixed together. Journalists should always put the message first.

Who needs data journalism and/or visualisation most and doesn’t know it?
Data journalism and visualisation are for anyone who has a story to tell. We tend to associate stories with journalists but stories also happen in a corporate context or in any institution that deals with data.

What free tools will you focus on in the training and why these tools in particular?
During the training, we will first use basic spreadsheet tools to clean and analyse data. Then, to visualize the data, I will focus on the tools like those already mentioned above, because they are free and – most important – open source.

Is it important for people to know or learn how to code (since this training is about free tools for non-coders)?
Coding is not binary, it’s not either you can or you can’t. Dealing with complex spreadsheets, re-use a long-form template and adapt it, changing the CSS style of a chart your created…it’s already techie and a way of coding. We tend to think that code is something mystical and elusive. Once we stop thinking that way, it opens up new possibilities and make things possible that we could have never imagined.

What is the most frequently asked question in your training session about free tools and what is your answer to this? 
It’s very common to mix-up free (non-paid) and open source. An open source tools has it’s source code openly published for use and/or modification from its original design. It doesn’t mean that the use of this tool is free of charges.

What lessons do you want the participants to take home from the training?
It’s not really a lesson, but as we will work a lot using collaborative spreadsheet, a Gmail account will be much needed.