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C&J prof. studies media techniques

Journalism professor Richard Schaefer and senior journalism major Natalia Jacquez have finished collecting data for a study that will analyze which visualization techniques in news are most effective in conveying information to audiences.

Schaefer said the primary question driving the study was ‘which of three visualization techniques are most effective in helping audiences develop cognitive, or informational, understanding of the issue at hand?’

“Journalists today tend to utilize the montage technique,” Schaefer said. “It is getting easier and more widespread because of modern programs.”

Schaefer explained that the montage technique is used to convey abstract arguments and concepts to viewers, while visualization is meant to induce empathy in the audience. The continuity technique is utilized by many journalists to create structured narrative by putting an individual face on the issue.

He said he hopes that when he and Jacquez analyze their findings, they will conclude that visualization is the most effective, contrary to various studies that state continuity is the most effective.

“I’ve come to care more about visualization — that’s what I teach more of and it’s what I believe in,” Schaefer said. “I’m hoping that (our data) will combat the prevailing theory that the method of putting a face on the story produces empathy.”

However, Schaefer said the study goes much deeper than simply finding out which techniques help audiences get more from watching news. The different amounts of information that the public gets from news correlates to a bigger argument about elite representative democracy versus a democracy in which everyone is informed and everyone participates, he said.

“We’re trying to deal with a very old debate,” Schaefer said. “We have a need to inform all citizens in a democracy, especially at a time when public opinion is constantly being measured.”

Schaefer said it is very important that the public be informed, and the techniques journalists use to tell their stories are significant in that regard.

“Media visualization involves translating a set of images into a new image which can reveal patterns,” according to a 2011 study by Lev Manovich, a media theory professor in New York.

The study states that these images then help the audience deduce cognitive information from news, something which Schaefer said is more important than ever in our day and age.

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“Cognition is not ‘are you empathetic?’ or ‘are you going to take action?’” Schaefer said. “It’s ‘do you understand the information?’”

Starting in mid-October, Schaefer began collecting data from a variety of age groups. He visited classes at UNM and presented his study, asking students to participate in his survey. He finished collecting his data from students on Wednesday, although he said he would like to get a few more middle-aged groups in the study.

“It was easy to get students to participate in the survey,” Schaefer said. “Adults are actually worse.”

Schaefer said he would present three stories to his audience, each with a different method of visualizing data. The audience would then choose whether to take part in a survey, from which Schaefer and Jacquez will be able to see which types of stories yielded certain reactions.

According to a handout Schaefer gives to all participants in his study, the findings from his research “will provide information on how journalists can best communicate information through the use of different video news techniques.”

Schaefer said he believes the visualization technique to be the most effective, and that journalism education should focus on that method in producing news.

“Visualization is very important, but we routinely teach the continuity technique,” Schaefer said. “We live in an age where the information — the baseline information — is king. So I’d rather it be taught the other way around.”

David Lynch is a staff reporter for The Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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