You’re aware, most likely, that South African track-and-field athlete — and double amputee — Oscar Pistorius was involved in a shooting at his apartment in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day. His girlfriend of four months, model Reeva Steenkamp, was shot three times and died at the scene.
Pistorius is being charged with her murder but says the shooting was an accident. The case is getting worldwide attention.
My clients at Graphics24 — the in-house graphics agency for South Africa’s Media24 chain of newspapers — has been kicking some major ass covering the story. It’s time I show you some of their work.
This is the big one, which ran in the Sunday newspapers. You might have seen it posted around the internet over the past day or so. Click for a much larger look.
The artist for that piece was Theuns Kruger. Theuns tells us how this graphic happened:
I was on duty last Saturday.
City Press wanted to do a 3D representation of the house showing what had occurred where. Unfortunately no-one could provide a floor plan of the house [in fact, that info wasn’t available until today: Wednesday]. I told Adriaan Basson [assistant city editor] from City Press that I cannot give an accurate representation of the house unless I had a floor plan to work from.
It was then suggested that I do a sequence of images describing what facts we had at that stage. So, I was working on a sequence of events that took place in a house that I had no plans for, having to depict what might have occurred based on the initial forensic report.
They pieced together that Oscar allegedly fired from the side of the bed, hitting Reeva in the hip after which she fled into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. Oscar then allegedly fired several shots through the door hitting Reeva a number of times. Oscar then allegedly brought the wounded Reeva downstairs. There was mention of a bloodied cricket bat, and that Reeva may have suffered a skull fracture before being shot, and many other inconsistencies (like how Oscar got to Reeva to carry her down the stairs if she was locked in the bathroom).
Therefore I created a “generic” bedroom listing the items that were of interest: The bloodied cricket bat, the pistol holster on the bedside table, the iPad on the floor, the crumpled bed sheets. And the fact that Reeva was shot in the hip.
The panel showing the shots through the bathroom door is also generic. It is a silhouette firing shots through a door, things such as angle, elevation and size of the bathroom weren’t available, and as such weren’t depicted.
The third panel also show a generic staircase and silhouettes. It wasn’t meant to be an accurate representation, simply an interpretation of the few facts we had to our disposal.
I was surprised to see that Theuns had drawn Pistorius with what appears to be real legs. Graphics24 editor Andre Gouws replies:
That is one of the major questions in this case, when did he or did he not strap on his feet.
I did not realize that Pistorius had an actual set of prosthetic legs. All I had ever seen him wear are the famous “blade runner” blades he uses in competition. But then again, I don’t live in South Africa, where Pistorius is a national hero. Theuns adds:
Apparently he took the time (at some stage) to put on his prosthetic legs before carrying Reeva downstairs.
Also, to protect his dignity, I decided to put the silhouette in full-length trousers. I didn’t have information about his state of dress (or undress) at the time of the graphic.
Theuns continues his story:
These facts were supposedly correct at the time of publication on Saturday night. Both Ferial Haffajee, editor of City Press, and Bokkie Gerber, editor of Rapport were involved with the graphic and approved the final version, and it was checked and approved by Media24’s legal representative Willem de Klerk as well. So, in that respect, all the relevant people were consulted and gave their approval before go-ahead.
Many new facts have emerged since Saturday that makes the graphic redundant, but we stand by the graphic as it represented facts up until Saturday.
The English version appeared in City Press, a nationally-distributed Sunday paper. A similar version also ran in Rapport, the Africaans-language counterpart.
Normally, I advise newspapers to stay away from reconstructing the scene of a crime or accident, simply because there are so many elements that must be guessed at to make these graphics happen. Visual journalists should be in the story telling business, not the guessing or speculating business.
For example: A number of newspapers in Europe and South America got a bit carried away two years ago in the aftermath of the Osama bin Laden incident. A group of 60 visual journalists — including yours truly — endorsed an article that called upon responsible editors to halt speculative fiction masquerading as journalism.
But there are times you can do this. You have to be very, very careful. That appears to be what Andre and his crew did this week. They even ran the graphic past a lawyer.
Yet, I first caught wind of this particular graphic when I spotted an article posted Monday night at Deadspin that called the graphic “an effort as bizarre as the story it is trying to illustrate.” The Daily Mail of London write “the tragedy was recreated in a controversial ‘cartoon’ strip in South Africa.” There are lots of other examples of these swipes at Theuns’ work. Those are the two I first bookmarked.
This caught my eye, particularly in light of my own criticism of the photoillustration on the front of Sunday’s die Burger. But the more I looked at the graphics: a) The more they seemed to be solidly sourced. Or, at least, adequately qualified. And b) The more apparent it became that I was looking at smaller pieces of a whole.
It’s all too easy to slam journalism when you’ve not seen the entire story.
Did Theuns, Andre and the rest of the team at Graphics24 see these criticisms? What did they think? Theuns tells me:
This has become a highly emotive case here in South Africa, with two distinct camps, those who believe Oscar to be innocent of premeditated murder, that it was an accident, and those that believe that he is guilty as charged. Most people also get their information from the media, so it is easy to see that their opinions might be distorted. The South African media is also accused of having condemned Oscar as guilty even before the trial, and I have had attacks on my character as a person our department website/blog. Again, I pointed out to these detractors that we have an editorial process for fact-checking, and that all those protocols were followed.
I have seen several sites, weird, unknown Bollywood movie sites and the like, calling the graphic ‘controversial’. Here in South Africa it was not. Those people are simply trying to stir controversy.
Theuns’ explanation of how [the graphic] came about is perfectly correct, and this was a case of trusting the sources, which the Rapport and City Press editors did.
Many of the facts in the graphic did indeed prove to be correct.
Today — while I ran errands and sat in the waiting room at my doctor’s office — Theuns’ graphic continued to spread around the internet. I found the graphic posted at the New York Daily News web site. Unlike Deadspin and the Daily Mail — which posted only the comic-strip-like snippets — the Daily News posted the entire piece, including the timeline elements, the source line and the byline. Did Graphics24 grant the Daily News permission to post the graphic?
The New York Daily News does not have permission to use our graphic. They lifted it off the City Press site.
You gotta love tabloid journalism. Sigh…
Andres came back later today with:
Just for interest sake, I have been surfing the web a bit tonight, so far what I have found, several of our Oscar graphics have been used by many major world news sites, largest one being The Sun (2.5 million print circulation), and also the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Yahoo! Sports, New York Daily News (lifted illegally …), and some other blogs.
Wherever Getty Images are credited they are ‘legal’ (Gallo Images in SA works with Getty, and we have an agreement with Gallo), but if they are not credited, the use is ‘illegal’.
Quite proud tonight …
As well he should be.
But that wasn’t the only graphic the Graphics24 team created for this story. Andre writes:
This was the first one the day after the event broke. Also quite good, I think.
Theuns was there on the scene. He got the house number. I found a map of the estate online, we managed to plot exactly where the house was, I could even find the exact house on Google Maps, a pic we would have used to show the house, but then luckily the Associated Press picture of the house came.
At this time everything inside the estate was kind of secret, so even this graphic, long-forgotten now, was quite special.
I can find copies of that one only in Afrikaans, so I presume it ran only in the dailies: Beeld of Johannesburg, die Burger of Cape Town and Volksblad of Bloemfontein.
Here’s a locator — in English — showing where, in Pretoria, Pistorius’ home is located.
A side note: I keep seeing Pretoria mentioned as South Africa’s “capital city.” Be advised that South Africa actually has three capital cities. The executive branch of national government is headquartered in Pretoria, which was the old Apartheid-era capital. Parliament is based in Cape Town, however, and the judicial branch is based in Bloemfontein.
In a great demonstration of how certain topics are indeed worldwide, this graphic shows the wide array of firearms for which Pistorius had applied to get licenses.
There was an Afrikaans version of that same graphic.
This graphic attempts to show how the news spread via Twitter the morning of the shooting.
Here’s the Afrikaans version.
This was significant because the folks at Beeld chose to break the original story via Twitter, rather than try to wait for a conventional online story or, God forbid, a print edition. Given what I know about South African media, I think that was a gutsy call.
That brings us to this very interesting piece by Elsolet Joubert, the visual journalist who visited us here in Virginia Beach last summer. This piece ran several days after the big piece by Theuns, as you can see: The story has changed a bit.
Andres tells us:
Similarly, Elsolet’s one was based on (in this case very, very good) Beeld sources. It was almost 100% correct.
We also got hold of some great images of the actual toilet and bathroom — the house is for sale — all images had been removed, except I did find one aggregator-type property site that still had thumbnails. Very useful.
The South African police can be quite secretive, so good sources are imperative. Both Beeld and the Sunday papers have excellent and trustworthy sources.
And back to distributing these graphics, Andre says:
Getty Images, via Gallo Images, has been selling our work internationally for a while now, and these ones are particularly sought after. The Daily Mail bought the bathroom one for example, and apparently there were many other interested papers.
That graphic ran on the front page of Monday’s Volksblad and Beeld. It ran inside die Burger.
South African media blogger Gil Moodie — who rounds up the country’s front pages every day — wrote Monday:
We see another interesting Pistorius titbit popping up in the Afrikaans papers – have a look at the infographic of the Pistorius bathroom on Volksblad’s front page. That is really fascinating and an excellent example of how a good graphic will beat the words anytime.
So after today’s dramatic testimony, what’s on the horizon for Thursday’s papers? Andre sent me a copy of the graphic, but I won’t post it until tomorrow morning, Eastern time here in the U.S. But Andre tells us it’s…
…gonna be spectacular. Rudi Louw has been working all day on that one. We gathered info from tweets all over, from reporters in court, and I have already translated it into English for the Witness [the Media24 paper in Pietermaritzburg] and international markets. I’m a bit of a translator these days too.
I’ll see if I can add that to this post Thursday.
Meanwhile, Theuns tells us about his next assignment:
Tomorrow morning early I will be at the Pretoria magistrates’ court to see if I can get in so that I can do some court sketches of the Oscar hearing. I have done those before, and of my team I live closest to Pretoria, so I guess that makes me the logical choice.
Now, more about the team members I mentioned earlier…
A 1993 graduate of the Technikon in Pretoria, Theuns Kruger is based in Johannesburg. he’s been with Graphics24 for a little over two years, now. In his spare time, he composes music. Find his blog here.
A 2004 graduate of Northwest University, Elsolet Joubert spent two years as an artist for Beeld, the Afrikaans-language daily in Johannesburg. She left in 2007 to join an advertising agency but returned the next year to concentrate on business graphics via Media24’s business news unit, Sake24. In 2010, she moved into the brand new graphics unit, where I had the pleasure of working with her again. And, like I said earlier, she visited the U.S. last year to further her visual journalism training. In her spare time — believe it or not — Elsolet attends law school. Find her web site here.
A 1989 graduate of Selborne College in East London, South Africa, Rudi Louw spent 19 years as a print and multimedia artist for the Daily Dispatch of East London. He started work with Graphics24 in November 2010, which coincided with the start of my five-month assignment as a graphics coach there. I wrote about Rudi’s work here and here and about a huge award he won here. Find his online portfolio here and his Twitter feed here.
And I see I don’t have a bio on file for graphics editor Andre Gouws. Therefore, I’ll simply repeat what I wrote about him shortly after I met him two years ago:
Andre and me on our way to Bloemfontein, November 2010.
Andre is very sharp and very organized. He has a ton of experience as both and editor and a manager, having worked in Cape Town and then at the Gulf News in Dubai. When I was here [in 2009], I helped write a job description and recommended criteria for a departmental leader. Seems to me they’ve chosen wisely.
Find the Graphics24 online graphics archive here.