Inside the Newsroom

How an art student helped enhance our investigations

Credit: Neha Dharkar/Reveal

Since Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting first partnered with the California College of the Arts for TechRaking 7: Designing the News in November 2014, our partnership has grown in new directions.

The most recent initiative has been our collaboration with the college’s animation program. Not only did we pilot a new class, Animated Investigations, with assistant professor Christoph Steger last fall, but we also worked to establish our first animation internship this summer with Neha Dharkar.

Over the past 12 weeks, Dharkar worked closely with our editorial team to create fun, informative visualizations from our stories. She mastered the art of the infoGIF, animating visual loops that convey key facts and statistics.

Take, for instance, her first original GIF illustrating the decline in Oregon timber subsidies from our story on the lack of resources for law enforcement in Josephine County, Oregon:

Dharkar also combed through our investigation of the student loan industry, creating a GIF that shows the fast-growing rate of undergraduate student debt:

She animated one of the more shocking revelations from our recent Reveal radio episode investigating the legacy of U.S. welfare reform:

And for Dharkar’s final project, she created a 30-second video animating a clip from Amy Walters’ segment in our recent episode on the Zika virus:

Before she left last week, we asked Dharkar to tell us what she learned working with us as an animator. Her responses have been edited for length and clarity.

What was the most challenging part of creating visual companions to Reveal’s stories?

The most challenging part was definitely the shift of subject. I usually make illustrations and animations that are comedic, but I’ve always been interested in infographic animation. Being able to combine animation with topics as crucial as climate change and criminal justice is important because it’s a creative way to not only get the reader engaged, but informed as well. It’s like the difference between PowerPoint presentations and “Bill Nye the Science the Guy.”

How did working with a newsroom affect your creative process?

Working with a newsroom allowed me to be more focused and opened up a new dimension of thinking. When I’m able to work in an environment where I know everyone around is supportive, I kind of feed off the energy of others. And when it came to making the work, I had to really read and analyze the stories I was making animations for. Since the subjects of the stories were a lot different from the animations and illustrations I have made in the past, my way of thinking has definitely changed.

What was the biggest takeaway that you learned from your internship?

The biggest takeaway from my internship was being able to see the process that goes into each story and Reveal episode. Especially being able to attend meetings, seeing how things are broken down and the flow of production – it gave me a new perspective for making the work as well. I got a better understanding of the different factors that go into a story and how to apply that perspective to GIFs.

What’s next for you?

When it comes to animation, I have so many mixed areas of work that I want to dive into, and Reveal gave me that opportunity with infographic animation. Representing ideas and stories visually is not only exciting for the audience, but for me to be able to create as well.

I’ll be finishing school soon, and after that, I hope to be able to make animations and visuals for stories ranging from the informative to (the) comedic. I’m always looking for opportunities to broaden my horizons, and I definitely got that this summer at Reveal.

Cole Goins can be reached at cgoins@cironline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @colegoins.

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