A lush graphic look at a biodiverse mountaintop rainforest

Have you ever heard of the Google Forest in northern Mozambique?

Me, neither.

Botanists from the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens near London theorized there must be some virgin biodiverse rainforest-like territory near Malawi and Mozambique, nearly a mile above sea level.

They used Google Earth to search for likely spots and eventually zeroed in on Mount Mabu.

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Bingo! The area proved to be as biologically diverse as hoped. Scientists have been studying it ever since.

This happened ten years ago. My friends at Graphics24 in South Africa celebrated this anniversary with an ginormous graphic that explains how what’s become known as the Google Forest was discovered and some of the species found there.

Click this for a much, much larger look:

Google Forest new

Graphics24 graphics editor Andre Gouws tells me:

I had an idea for this one when I read an article that this forest was discovered by Western scientists ten years ago. I thought it would be great to show this amazing forest in all its beauty in an infographic.

I did the research, found the names of all the new species, and told Hanlie Malan about my idea to sketch the forest filled with all these beautiful creatures.

I love doing these kind of arty graphics with Hanlie.

Hanlie picks up the story:

This graphic was Andre’s great idea. He asked me to make sure to create the feeling that when you look at it, it must feel like you are inside a forest.

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First I made a study of all the trees — I found a great site with all the info, then I proceeded with a rough drawing to be able to figure out where each bird/plant/insect etc must go. I discussed it with Andre first, and then I started the detailed drawing of the trees, after which I added the colors and effects. This took me one whole weekend and the following Monday nonstop.

After that was done, I started drawing each animal/insect separately, knowing it would facilitate the process as I go along, in case it needed to be made bigger or smaller or moved to add info later on.

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The snake took many hours to draw.

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Andre supplied a lot of info which helped me to me able to illustrate a lot of the newly found fauna and flora. I used a few different artist pens for all of the drawings. I added each one’s colors separately as well, and these took me an additional two weekends, but I also worked on this a few times during the weeks, when I had time, between my other work.

Yes, you are 100% correct by saying I drew it first, scanned it in and then added the colors in Photoshop. I drew everything quite big so that it could have a lot of detail afterwards, when scanned and reduced in size. I tried to make it look hand-colored with the effects I used.

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And yes, I added the ‘halo’s’ to make them stand out, I am glad you say it works.

Andre finishes the story by adding:

I sent the graphic to the researcher, Dr. Julian Bayliss (he is in Malawi now)…

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…and he very kindly responded with some additional info. He also asked for a copy of the graphic. He says he likes it a lot.

Graphics24 is the infographics division of South African media giant Media24. Among the company’s many holdings: Daily Afrikaans-language papers in Johannesburg, Bloomfontein and Cape Town, two large nationally-distributed Sunday papers — one publishes in Afrikaans and one in English — and a number of tabloids. I did quite a bit of teaching and consulting work for the company’s print operation between 2009 and 2011.

This graphic ran in the English-language Sunday paper, City Press. I’m told it’s possible it might also appear in City Press‘ Afrikaans-language counterpart, Rapport.

Hanlie Malan works out of the company’s Port Elizabeth office.

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I posted about her work from time to time during my trips to South Africa. Here’s an example of her graphic work.

Here’s what I wrote about graphics editor Andre Gouws back in 2010, when Media24 appointed him to be graphics director:

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.

1011AfricaRoadTripMeAndAndre

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.

In November of last year, Andre and Hanlie teamed up to create a nice piece on the Berlin Wall. A month later, they worked on a piece that observed the 10th anniversary of the gigantic tsunami that affected the Indian Ocean.

Find the Graphics24 online graphics archive here.

A South African chain observes the 10th anniversary of the tsunami

Ten years ago today, a 9.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The resulting tsunami grew to nearly 34 feet tall in places. Nearly a quarter-million people were killed in and around the Indian Ocean.

My friends at Graphics24 — the infographics arm of the Media24 chain based in Johannesburg, South Africa — put together this piece to commemorate the disaster.

Tsunami gray

Click that for a much larger look. Click here to see a version in Afrikaans.

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The illustrator for that graphic was Hanlie Malan, who works out of the company’s Port Elizabeth office. I posted about her work from time to time during my consulting gigs at her company. Here’s an example of her graphic work.

Graphics editor Andre Gouws researched and wrote the piece. Here’s what I wrote about Andre when Media24 hired him to be graphics director back in 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.

1011AfricaRoadTripMeAndAndre

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.

Last month, I wrote about Andre and Hanlie’s collaboration on a piece about the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Find the Graphics24 online graphics archive here.

Now, that’s more like it

I mentioned the other day that the front pages in South African newspapers the day after the death of Nelson Mandela were very nice, but not jaw-dropping.

That was probably an unfair expectation on my part. I was hoping for jaw dropping.

Well, today it happened. My jaw dropped.

This cover wrapped around the entire edition of the Afrikaans-language national Sunday paper, Rapport.

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Whites and blacks, gathering to pay their respects outside of Mandela’s residence near Johannesburg.

Look at the young white man on the right, comforting the black woman.

It’s a touching picture anyway, and worthy of the play it was given. But the more you know about the history of the country and the culture that it still struggles with to this day… well, this is just mind-blowing.

Unfortunately, I can’t read the credit. I’ll add the name of the photographer if I can dig that up. I’m told the photographer was Siphiwe Sibeko, shooting for Reuters.

Making the rounds today via social media is this other shot of those same people:

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Wow.

I’m told this picture was used on the front of today’s Sunday World — a South African paper I’ve not even heard of.

Find Siphiwe Sibeko’s web site here and his Twitter feed here.

My compliments to Rapport editor Waldimar Pelser and his staff.

A sampling of Nelson Mandela front pages

I was most anxious to see how South African papers played the death of Nelson Mandela on today’s front pages.

You guys will recall, I’m sure, that I spent quite a bit of time in South Africa teaching design and infographics. Between August 2009 and last summer, I spent a total of nine months there, over six separate trips. Among the many things I did for my clients there: I helped them plan and build Mandala pages and elements to use on pages when the sad day finally would come.

Which it did, yesterday.


THE WITNESS
Pietermaritzburg
Circulation: 17,151

You get a sense of how late the news broke Thursday night when you see the Friday front of the Witness.

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Naturally, the “rumors” turned out to be true. This time, Mandela did pass away. The Witness came back later Friday with a special edition featuring a wonderful collage cover illustration.

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This is what I hoped to see on the front page of today’s papers — things that had never been done before on page one.

I’m not sure we saw that. Don’t get me wrong, we saw some great pages today. But nothing really jawdropping.


BEELD
Johannesburg
Circulation: 63,016

The papers I worked with in South Africa — the Media24 chain — produced wonderfully reverent front pages today. This is the largest weekday paper owned by Media24, in Johannesburg.

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The paper wisely killed its front-page ad and all the skyboxes — they call them “pluggers” there — and used a lot of mourning black. The result is elegant and quiet. Reverent.


DIE BURGER
Cape Town
Circulation: 57,696

Media24’s Cape Town paper turned its lead art black-and-white to help emphasize the moment.

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Normally, die Burger runs its nameplate in blue. The fact that you don’t see any blue up there today is significant.

I saw an earlier version of this page that included an ad at the bottom.

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Memo to whoever was responsible: Killing that ad was the right thing to do. Most definitely.


CAPE TIMES
Cape Town
Circulation: 32,428

Several South African papers today simply turned their page black and ran the best Mandala portrait they could find.

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THE MERCURY
Durban
Circulation: 28,396

This one — it appears to be what we Americans would call “an extra” — seems to suffer from an awkward crop.

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THE STAR
Johannesburg
Circulation: 80,303

A number of papers tried to crop in tight on Mandela’s face.

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I’m not real sure how effective that one was.


VOLKSBLAD
Bloemfontain
Circulation: 17,988

This one is a bit better, I think.

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Volksblad is a tiny paper, so they probably didn’t have much jump space inside. It’s a shame they couldn’t push the story inside and run a larger picture. It’s even more of a shame they couldn’t kill that ugly ad.

South African TV today canceled all its commercials. I don’t think it’s feasible for newspapers to do that, but I do think it’s appropriate to push an ad off the front on a day like today. It should be written into any contract for a front-page ad.


THE TIMES
Johannesburg
Circulation: 50,236

The Times of Johannesburg also went with a tight crop and a black background.

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MAIL & GUARDIAN
Johannesburg
Circulation: 41,116

I love the feel of this one — it’s more of a magazine feel than the other pages, above.

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I think the little red Mandela silhouette at the top of the page is overkill, however.


THE CITIZEN
Johannesburg
Circulation: 49,731

And while I like the black-and-white treatment on the front of today’s Citizen

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I’m not quite sure why we needed to see a second photo of Mandela in the bottom right. All that does is to diminish the lead art.


SOWETAN
Soweto
Circulation: 95,068

That same picture used in the little circle by the Citizen was lead art on today’s Sowetan.

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In case you’re wondering, “Tata” is “father” in Mandela’s native tongue, Xhosa.


GRAPHICS24
Johannesburg

My friends in the graphics department of the Media24 papers have been hard at work for years, now, preparing for the ten days of planned official mourning between yesterday and the day they’ll bury Mandela. Among the pieces I saw created during one of my trips there: This wonderful collection of notable Mandela quotes.

madiba quotes page copy

That was designed by my friend Rudi Louw.

Find the Graphics24 online archive here.


ELSEWHERE

A number of papers in the U.K. did a fabulous job displaying the story today. My favorite was this wraparound cover by the Times of London.

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British newspaper consultant Peter Sands rounded up a number of U.K. front pages today. Check ’em out here. Also, see the Guardian‘s collection here.

U.S. papers have also been rounded up by the Poynter Institute and by the Society for News Design. There’s quite a bit of great work out there, so please go take a look.

My former colleagues at the Virginian-Pilot produced what may be my favorite front page of the day.

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And just across the river in Newport News, the Daily Press did a fabulous job as well, combining a tight crop, black and a lot of reflective-feeling quiet space.

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I was very proud of the front page my colleagues here at the Orange County Register put together today.

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That’s certainly one of the iconic moments we’ll always remember about Mandela: Feb. 11, 1990, the day he was released after 27 years as a political prisoner in his own country. The photo is by David C. Turnley.

And I had my own little piece of the story today: Back in March and April, when I was just cranking up production on my daily Focus page, I built an advance page featuring a timeline of Mandela’s life.

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The main timeline runs down the right side. In the center, I pulled out four big chunks of Mandela’s life and focused on those. Highlighted is is 27 years as a political prisoner.

I didn’t have a decent (copyright-free) photo that  illustrate that phase of his life, so — to hell with it, y’know? — I just used my own.

MandelaTimeline02

We wanted that page to run as part of our Mandela coverage at the front of our A section today. I sacrificed color in order to make that happen.

However, the page did run in color in today’s Riverside, Calif., Press-Enterprise — a paper our owners here bought recently. I’ve not seen it yet, but they put a small plugger out front today.

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And, of course, I’m delighted to be in the Riverside paper today. As well as my own.

Best wishes to all my friends in that part of the world who are working hard to cover the story while in mourning themselves. Today, we all are South African. Best wishes to the Great Man. And best wishes to us all.

South African media writers Gill Moodie and Herman Manson rounded up a number of South African papers today, too.

The images in this post are from the Newseum, PressDisplay, Facebook, Twitter… and even a few came in via email. Thanks to all who contributed.

Not quite yet, Philadelphia Daily News…

Tuesday, the Philadelphia Daily News joined the growing number of media outlets that have declared South African freedom activist-turned political prisoner-turned-president Nelson Mandela dead.

See the little black strip across the top of yesterday’s front page.

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The problem, of course: Mandela is not dead yet. Technically, at least. Reports are that he’s being kept alive by a respirator. Conflicting reports — mostly from the South African government that no one really seems to trust — are that he’s doing fine and may be discharged from the hospital in time for his birthday. Sure enough, reports today are that he’s made “dramatic” progress.

Which, by the way, is tomorrow. He’ll be 95. Mandela has been hospitalized since June 18.

If you’re really interested in knowing about Mandela’s health, you’d best monitor South African media reports. I trust my friends at Media24 the most. Find Media24’s Engish-language news site here.

Thanks to Jarrod M. Graham, design editor of the Bakersfield Californian for the tip on a day I had taken off to take my family to Disneyland.


UPDATE – 2:50 p.m., PDT

That front page may have been sent to the Newseum, but it didn’t actually publish, the Daily News‘ managing editor tells us.

Pat McLoone writes:

The Daily News each night sends an e-mail to some media outlets to showcase our front and back pages. An e-mail for Tuesday, sent in error, had a copy of a front page that was not authorized to be released or printed. This unauthorized front page was not printed and did not appear on our websites. We alerted the outlets once we realized the mistake. The Daily News regrets the error.

If anyone has a photo — even a cell cam picture — of Tuesday’s front and can confirm this for me, I’d be much obliged.


UPDATE – 4:50 p.m., PDT

The folks from the Daily News are kind enough to send along the actual front page from yesterday’s paper:

[FINAL - 1]  DN/PAGES/1--DAILY/001 ... 07/16/13

So again: The one on the left did not publish but was posted yesterday to the Newseum. It has a bad Mandela headline (and, for what it’s worth, it’s missing the ad).

130716PhillyDailyNewsMandela [FINAL - 1]  DN/PAGES/1--DAILY/001 ... 07/16/13

The one on the right did run.

How South African visual journalists are covering the ongoing Oscar Pistorius story

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

120220PistoriusRapportGraphic

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 writethe 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.

Andres agrees:

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?

Andres replies:

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.

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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.

120220PistoriusLocator

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.

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There was an Afrikaans version of that same graphic.

120220PistoriusWeaponsAfrikaans

This graphic attempts to show how the news spread via Twitter the morning of the shooting.

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Here’s the Afrikaans version.

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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.

120220PistoriusBathroomEnglish

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.

120220PistoriusBathroomAfrikaans

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.

130220PistoriusBeeld 130220PistoriusVolksblad

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…

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

A photoillustration ran wild this weekend in South Africa’s die Burger

I was mighty impressed with the way my friends at die Burger in Cape Town presented the horrible Oscar Pistorius shooting story on the front of Friday’s paper.

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That is Pistorius, being led away to jail after police determined that his shooting and killing of his girlfriend early Thursday was probably not an accident. What a terrible story and what a huge fall for this internationally famous athlete.

I was not quite so impressed, however, with die Burger‘s Saturday presentation, in which the paper addressed the questions surrounding the shooting via a photoillustration.

130216PistoriusDieBurger

The actual questions surrounding the case are spelled out in bullet points atop the photo.

There really weren’t many fresh pictures, for Saturday. Editors tend to get creative when they have no art. And sometimes, that creativity doesn’t quite work out.

In this case, the concept — which turned Pistorius’ distinctive running blades into question marks — was just a little too clever.

130216Pistorius01 130216Pistorius02

The result seemed a bit distasteful. At least, it did to me.

Average daily circulation for die Burger is about 91,665.

Another of my client papers in South Africa — Beeld of Johannesburg — broke the story Thursday via Twitter. Find the latest Pistorius case news via News24, the English-language online news channel from the company that owns both Beeld and die Burger, Media24.

I haven’t rounded up the Oscar Pistorius pages from South Africa this week, mostly because a) So few of them were really any good, and b) Gill Moodie of the Grubstreet blog has done an excellent job doing so.

Those front pages are both from PressDisplay.

Have you ever wondered…

…what a South African Christmas card looks like?

Wonder no more.

That’s a giraffe, wearing a Christmas tree as a hat. Note the little bluebird holding a string or garland. It almost looks like a fancy earring.

The card is by Tracy Paul of Stuff from Africa — a Cape Town-based greeting card company founded by a woman laid-off from Ogilvy & Mather.

Mental Note: Next time I’m in South Africa, buy stuff from Stuff from Africa.

And thanks, Arlene Prinsloo! A very merry (summer) Christmas to you, as well!

How newspapers played a faster-than-sound fall from the sky

One of the big talkers for this past week was Felix Baumgartner, the man who skydived from the edge of space — 24 miles up.

I wish I had seen this before, but my friends/clients at Grapihcs24 in Johannesburg, South Africa, produced a graphic explaining how the operation would work. Visual journalist Rudi Louw tells me:

Yes, we ran this last week just before the balloon failed on his first attempt.

Click for a larger view:

In addition to the detailed up-and-down diagram on the left, this graphic includes a bit that shows the size of the balloon — when inflated — that lofted Baumgartner into the thin air.

The structure on the left — for comparative purposes — is Telkom Tower, a prominent feature of the Johannesburg skyline.

Rudi also included this look at Baumgartner’s pressure suit.

Another idea might have been to point out all the damn Red Bull logos. At times, this guy reminded me of a race car driver.

Rudi detailed the four records Baumgartner was aiming to break yesterday.

He didn’t quite get that fourth one. Baumgartner was in free fall 4 minutes and 20 seconds: 16 seconds short of the record. However, he did hit nearly 834 mph on the way down: Mach 1.24, or nearly one-and-a-quarter times the speed of sound.

Something that wasn’t answered: How do you yell “Geronimo” when you’re falling at one-and-a-quarter times the speed of sound?

Ah, well. Maybe next time.

Naturally, the event was page-one news in a number of papers today…

BOSTON GLOBE

Boston, Mass.

Circulation: 225,482

Most papers that put this out front today took a similar approach: One picture of Baumgartner stepping out of his capsule and a second picture of him safe on the ground.

This was a particularly nice — and simple — take.

Nearly all of these photos, I might add, are handout pictures from the project itself, Red Bull Stratos and transmitted by the Associated Press.

U-T SAN DIEGO

San Diego, Calif.

Circulation: 230,742

U-T San Diego led with the after and then downplayed a different angle of the upstairs shot.

STAR TRIBUNE

Minneapolis, Minn.

Circulation: 300,330

The designer in Minneapolis went the opposite direction.

I like the headline — Back to Earth at 833.9 mph — as well as the little pullouts under the second photo.

STAR NEWS

Wilmington, N.C.

Circulation: 39,058

Wilmington, too, also ran two clean pictures and a great headline.

HERALD-JOURNAL

Spartanburg, S.C.

Circulation: 31,940

In Spartanburg, however, the designers opted for three pictures, adding one of the balloon ascending.

Also, note the “after” picture is one of Baumgartner celebrating with his project chief.

NEWS & ADVANCE

Lynchburg, Va.

Circulation: 26,092

The folks in Lynchburg led with that picture and downplayed the upstairs picture.

TIMES-NEWS

Hendersonville, N.C.

Circulation: 11,837

Hendersonville, N.C. took completely different approach: An enormously vertical picture.

While I love the different look that page has, I also have a problem with it: The presentation puts too much emphasis on the ascent — which was only a minor part of the story — and downplayed the skydiving portion.

STANDARD-TIMES

New Bedford, Mass.

Circulation: 21,582

I can say the same for this page from Massachusetts.

VIRGINIAN-PILOT

Norfolk, Va.

Circulation: 142,476

The Virginian-Pilot played the best picture of the event above its nameplate today, along with a great Fearless Felix label hed.

ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS

Anchorage, Alaska

Circulation: 43,725

But the best headline of the day, perhaps, was this one in the Anchorage, Alaska, paper.

Supersonic speed freak.

Gotta love it.

So, how did the sky dive play in Baumgartner’s home country of Austria?

KURIER

Vienna, Austria

Kurier of Vienna used a screencap from television for its front-page picture today.

The result was blurry as hell. It’s a shame, given all the great choices that were out there.

The headline…

Ein historischer Fall

…is fairly easy to understand, I think.

VORARLBERGER NACHRICHTEN

Bregenz, Austria

The paper in Bregenz played up a nice crop of Baumgartner waving after his fall.

SALZBURGER NACHRICHTEN

Salzburg

The big paper in Salzburg opted for a montage of images.

I don’t think this was nearly as effective as some of the pages we saw above. Less is more.

The headline…

Weltrekord: Felix Baumgartner schaffte Überschallflug

You can probably figure out on your own. “Weltrekord” is obviously world record. I did have to run “Überschallflug” through Google Translate, but once I saw what it meant, I should have realized it meant “supersonic flight.”

HEUTE

Vienna, Austria

And the free paper in Vienna not only used a picture I hadn’t seen anywhere else, but paired it with a terrific headline.

The graphic material came from my friends at Graphics24. The front pages are all from the Newseum. Of course.

If you want to innovate, you have to take chances

Recently, South African journalist Herman Manson interviewed me about the perceived lack of innovation in the design of that country’s newspapers.

An excerpt:

Q. I’ve seen somebody argue that newspaper re-designs lack innovation preferring to copy of other designs. Is this a fair complaint and if so how can it be remedied?

A. It’s a fair complaint. I think it’s the result of editors – or perhaps publishers or owners or perhaps all of the above – who are afraid to take chances.

Bottom line: You can’t innovate unless you’re willing to take a chance. If you’re too afraid to take chances, then the best you’ll ever do is stumble along a well-beaten path. It’s that second one that you’re noticing, Herman.

A wonderful sign on the door of one of my favorite

editors. Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News, July 2010.

If it makes you feel better, though, U.S. papers – to a large extent – have that same problem. The unwillingness to innovate is one reason the news industry here is in the financial state it’s in. Editors and publishers are waking up. But their efforts now may be too little and too late.

My advice to editors in South Africa, Africa and, yes, here as well: Stop making the same mistakes over and over again. Find new mistakes to make. If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not trying hard enough to innovate.

The entire interview was published last night. Find it here.

South African paper settles lawsuit over infographic

A South African newspaper settled a lawsuit today filed by a mayor who disliked how he was portrayed in an infographic last summer.

Last August, City Press — a nationally-distributed English-language Sunday paper — ran a story about how national and local officials work together to extend government-funded work — called “tenders” over there — to companies with ties to those officials.

The particular city shown in the graphic was Polokwane, in the province of Limpopo, northeast of Johannesburg and Pretoria. The national leader featured in the graphic was Julius Malema, former leader of the ANC Youth League, a politically powerful arm of the African National Congress, the party that’s governed South Africa since the first democratic election in 1994. Malema was convicted of hate speech twice in two years and then found guilty of causing a rift in the ANC itself. He was expelled from the party for five years. Last month, he was charged with fraud and money laundering.

Here’s the graphic. Click for a larger view:

The mayor who sued? He’s the guy shown at the extreme lower left.

The graphic “was intended to show the network of power,” City Press editor Ferial Haffajee told South African wire service SAPA, and not to accuse the mayor of actual corruption or abuse of power. SAPA quotes Ferial as saying:

Mr. Greaver started off by suing the newspaper for R15 million. We agreed to apologise and settled at R100,000.

We never meant to implicate Greaver as corrupt and I have learned that when you publish a graphic image, you need to add explanatory text.

In this case, perhaps, what we in the U.S. might think of as “qualifiers.”

SAPA reports the paper was ordered Tuesday to pay R100,000 in damages plus court costs, publish an apology this Sunday and give the mayor the right to reply.

Full disclosure: Graphics24, City Press, Ferial Haffajee and their parent company, Media24, are my consulting clients.

South African newspaper fires staff photographer for blowing whistle on front-page Photoshop incident

A photographer was fired over a photoshopped picture on the front of a South African newspaper. But it’s not what you think.

This was the front of the Citizen newspaper of Johannesburg, eight days ago:

The problem? Two bodies lying on the ground on the right were cloned out of the picture. Find the original here.

A debate on photo ethics broke out via social media the next day. Citizen editor Martin Williams eventually released an apologetic statement:

Due to the much more graphic nature of the Kabul blast photo, we felt that blurring the bodies was appropriate. Removing them completely is, however, completely inexcusable and we readily admit that this never should have happened.

But here’s what we didn’t know last week. That social media debate on photo ethics was kicked off by a staff photographer who was in only his second month of work at the Citizen.

Faranaaz Parker of the Mail and Guardian — also of Johannesburg — reports today:

Johann “Slang” Hattingh tweeted about the incident shortly after the paper was published and a furious discussion about the ethics of the Citizen‘s actions broke out over social media.

…Following the furore, Hattingh was called in for a disciplinary hearing. He was charged with bringing the company name into disrepute by making defamatory comments on Twitter, and with irretrievably damaging the trust relationship between employer and employee.

On Thursday, he was informed of his immediate dismissal.

My thoughts…

1) If you blow the whistle on your boss for doing something wrong, expect to be fired. Hell, there was a young journalist here in the U.S. who lost his brand-new job simply for announcing it on his web site. It’s crappy. But that’s life for you.

2) I’d argue that a newspaper that permits a page-one photo to be manipulated is guilty of a lot more “bringing the company name into disrepute” than whistleblowing would.

3) I hope readers in Johannesburg stop reading this newspaper. There are plenty of options there.

4) Visual ethics, everybody: Have some. Please.

Find the Mail and Guardian story here.

Find my earlier blog post on this topic here.

A couple of Photoshop scandals remind us about visual ethics

Let’s close our Thursday with news of a couple of Photoshop scandals…

First, in Johannesburg South Africa: The Citizen newspaper published a front-page photo Wednesday of a horrific bomb attack on an airport minivan in Kabul, Afghanistan, that killed 12 including two South Africans.

That’s pretty bad. But hey, the photo could have been worse, right? There could be bodies lying around or something.

And that was the problem, of course. The original photo by Massoud Hossaini and distributed by Agence France Presse did have bodies in it. Two of ’em. The Citizen Photoshopped them out before it used the picture, reports another Johannesburg-based newspaper the Mail & Guardian.

My apologies, but here’s the original:

After a debate on photo ethics broke out via social media, Citizen editor Martin Williams released an apologetic statement today:

Due to the much more graphic nature of the Kabul blast photo, we felt that blurring the bodies was appropriate. Removing them completely is, however, completely inexcusable and we readily admit that this never should have happened.

And, before you ask: No, the Citizen is not one of the papers in South Africa that has hired me to consult. And yes, whenever I go, I do try to get folks to sit through my visual ethics slideshow.

Clearly, someone needs a lesson in visual ethics.

Meanwhile, much closer to home…

The new issue of the National Review is out. Check out the cover photo.

Folks at the National Democratic Convention protesting not in favor of “choice” but actually in favor of abortion? Not damned likely.

In fact, that’s a photoillustration — and a very clever one, too, if you’re one who stands on the right-hand side of the aisle — but one that was apparently not originally labeled as such. The signs, of course, originally said “Forward.”

National Review publisher Jack Fowler posted to the magazine’s web site Wednesday:

The image used on the cover and the contents page of the October 1, 2012, issue of National Review, in both the print and various digital editions, was altered by National Review. It is not the original photograph as provided by Reuters/Newscom, and therefore should not have been attributed to this organization, nor attributed to the photographer.

And, of course, hackles were raised.

So the mistakes here…

1) The National Review built a photoillustration using a wire photo from Reuters and then credited the original photo. Most of the wire services ask clients not to manipulate their work, but it’s sometimes done anyway.

2) The National Review didn’t label the photoillustration as a photoillustration.

3) The topic of the photoillustration is one of those key issues that causes a lot of passionate debate in the first place. Meaning that folks on the left side of the aisle are going to scream “cheap shot” over this one.

But the real issue here, as I see it…

Photomanipulation is commonly done in the magazine industry. Especially on covers.

 

Here’s another, more recent example.

When the topic is fashion or a celebrity, hardly anyone seems to notice. But whenever the magazine industry and the breaking news industry — or, in this case, the photojournalism industry — intersect: Yeah, there are going to be conflicts.

Its time that a) The magazine industry clean up its act regarding Photoshop use. And b) for news magazines — as opposed to fashion or entertainment magazines — to lead that effort.

Thanks to multimedia editor James Michalowski for bringing this magazine incident to my attention today. And thanks to Jim Romenesko for blogging about it earlier.

Thanks to iMedia Ethics for blogging about the South African incident today.

How South African papers covered last week’s disastrous mine protest

Mining is huge in South Africa. You may be aware of the gold and diamond mines there — the country is quite famous for those. But South Africa is also big on mining coal, chrome, manganese, and platinum.

Workers held a strike last week to protest conditions at a platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg. On Thursday, the protest got out of control. Police opened fire.

In the end, 34 were killed and at least 78 wounded. Police arrested 259 miners — who are facing a hearing today, in fact.

Here are a few front pages from Friday and Saturday. First, Beeld, the 73,344-circulation Johannesburg daily:

 

Friday’s huge headline reads:

Massacre

Saturday’s paper features a three-step graphic built atop aerial photos and the headline:

This leads to carnage

That simple diagram was built by Jaco Grobbelaar of Graphics24 — the in-house agency that provides graphics for Media24’s newspapers around the country and the group with which I’ve done so much work over the past three years.

Graphics editor Andre Gouws tells me:

We got aerial shots from the police on Friday afternoon and used these to show how the shooting happened.

Here’s an English translation…

…but here, I’ve broken that up into a vertical version so you can read it better.

Meanwhile, here were Friday and Saturday front pages from die Burger, Media24’s 59,808-circulation  flagship paper in Cape Town.

 

Friday’s front is built around an extraordinary photo of the massacre as it happened. The headline:

18 dead in 3 minutes

Saturday’s front shows investigators collecting evidence at the scene. The headline:

Here, they fell

And from the 20,000-circulation English-language Witness of Pietermaritzburg — where I spent the Thursday and Friday of the week before all this happened — here are the Friday and Saturday fronts.

 

For the big national papers — Rapport (Afrkaans) and City Press (English), Graphics 24 built a more elaborate diagram. Andre tells me:

Rudi Louw drove out to the scene (100km, around 60 miles, from Johannesburg), took pictures, looked at the site, got a feel for the context – and came up with this one.

There’s an aerial picture with a diagram superimposed atop, eight vignette pictures and a locator. Click for a larger view:

Andre writes:

Great work I think.

I think so, too.

Interesting angles about this story from the Media24 papers:

A hearty hello from Boston’s Logan airport

As you know, I’m on my way home from three weeks of visual journalism consulting and instruction in Nairobi, Kenya; Johannesburg and Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Saturday afternoon, I flew from Joburg back to Nairobi. Overnight, I flew from Nairobi to Amsterdam, from which I blogged earlier today (or late last night U.S. time).

At this very moment, I’m kicked back in a wonderful white rocking chair, soaking up a few rays and overlooking the tarmac of Boston’s Logan International Airport.

The real reason I selected such a scenic spot to park myself for my layover here: It’s the only place where I can find a place to plug in my laptop. Seriously.

Once I had gone through passport control and customs and had rechecked my bag — Hey, my bag made it to Boston! WooHoo! — I did the security thing and then ordered up the largest order of orange chicken I could get from Panda Express, here in Logan’s Terminal A. I had run down the power in my MacBook Pro in Amsterdam, however, which put me on the hunt for a receptacle.

While I was roaming around, I bought a huge Diet Coke and a newspaper. Where the conversation went something like this:

Girl: Sunday Boston Globe… $3.50. Would you like a bag for that?

Me: No, I’ll just eat it here.

Girl: [Dumbfounded expression]

I also spotted this really cool book, which appears to be about the lost art of greyscale illustration. Perhaps I should take a chance and buy a copy.

One of the downsides of my trip has been my ongoing cough. After a couple of prolonged coughing fits today, my head began pounding. A little aspirin fixed my aching brain. But I still can’t seem to shake the cough. Nor can I find any of my usual U.S. brands of sugar-free lozenges here in the airport. I hope my one remaining box of Dutch lozenges and my one remaining bag of super-powered South African cough tablets will get me by for another four hours.

I already told you about my overnight Friday KLM flight from Nairobi to Amsterdam, which was very uncomfortable, to say the least. The Delta flight today from Amsterdam to Boston went much more smoothly.

The only negative note came moments after I posted that last blog entry, I shut my computer and I got in the boarding line. The woman at the security checkpoint asked me if I could tell her about my flight plans to return to Kenya.

Huh? Return to Kenya? No, I was in Kenya for two weeks and then South Africa for a week. I’m returning to the U.S.

The woman pulled me out of line, had me sit in a holding area and informed me that my passport and my reply didn’t match what the airline had in its database. It took her about ten minutes to straighten everything out, after which she turned me loose and let me rejoin the line. But man, what a jolt that was.

The Delta Airbus was quite a bit older than the KLM 747-400 on which I had flown the night before. But I was much more comfortable, despite the fact that I still didn’t have a window seat. I did, however, have an aisle seat. I also had a little legroom, a dinner tray that folded down properly and a working personal video device.

In case you’re interested, I watched the Three Stooges and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I figure those two pretty much cancel each other out, karma-wise.

I also put on Hugo, but that movie really did the trick. It plodded along so slowly that I found myself asleep in minutes.

My next flight departs from here in a little less than two hours. Delta still hasn’t seen fit to give me a seat assignment, however. In the meantime, I’m hearing repeated pleas over the P.A. system here in Terminal A begging for volunteers to step out of various other Delta flights that are overbooked.

I’ll feel a lot better when I have that seat assignment. The fact that Delta representatives have declined, a number of times, to give me one makes me wonder just how secure my seat is tonight. Delta sure isn’t making this trip easy for me.

In the meantime, of course, I’ve tried to get caught up on the huge mound of correspondence that’s been piling up. And I chatted with Sharon for the first time in several days. Why call on a silly ol’ iPhone when you can do Facetime?

Assuming no other travel “mishaps” today, I should be home by late this evening. I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight and — hopefully — having my cat sleep on my feet.

My blog entries for this trip, so far…

I’ve made it as far as Amsterdam

At my age — and as lucky as I’ve been to be able to travel extensively, teaching visual journalism — I don’t have a lot of things left on my “bucket list.”

But one that remains is: I’d like to visit Amsterdam. It’s a gorgeous city. I love what I’ve seen, via pictures and books, of the architecture of Amsterdam.

The good news: I’m there. The bad news: All I’m going to see is the inside of the airport.

Ah, well. I will have to wait a while longer before I can kick that bucket list.

In the meantime, it is a very nice airport. Perhaps one of the prettiest — and most efficient — I’ve ever seen.

The House of Tulips. Where else but Amsterdam, right?

But let’s back up a day. I last wrote you Saturday morning from Johannesburg, from which I was preparing to depart after a week in South Africa and three weeks total in Africa teaching visual journalism.

I had a few files I wanted to send out before I left, but it took me longer than I had planned to send them out. Smack in the middle of all that, my internet service expired. So to hell with it; I’d have to deal with it later.

And then there was a small hassle checking out of the hotel. And then there was a small hassle turning in my rental car. And then there was a small hassle checking my one bag at the airport. There was even a hassle going through passport control: The guy there stamped the wrong boarding pass. Sure glad I spotted the error or I might not have been allowed to board my plane.

I flew Kenya Airways from Johannesburg back to Nairobi. I didn’t have a window seat, so I wasn’t able to get much sleep on the flight.

The good news was that the folks at Kenya Airways checked my bag all the way through to Norfolk. I had been told that I would be compelled to go though passport control in Nairobi and pay the standard fee for an entry fee just to retrieve my bag and recheck it. That turned out not to be the case.

On the other hand, I got kicked out of the restaurant in the Nairobi airport. That’s the first time I can remember something like that happening to me.

I had a lengthy layover in Nairobi. I had dinner and two beers and was on my MacBook Pro, building a graphics template when a waiter came over and informed me they needed that table. I’d have to leave.

I sat there kind of stunned for a moment. As I pointed out to the waiter, roughly half of the people in the restaurant had been there longer than I had. I’m not quite sure why I was singled out. But he just stared at me, apologetically.

Gee. Thanks for the hospitality.

On the other hand, I managed to dump some of the foreign currency I had been carrying around. I had no less than four — count ’em, four — sets, which I kept organized via little sandwich bags.

The South African Rands — upper right — I exchanged at a booth in the Nairobi airport. The Kenyan shillings, I used to pay my bill at the unfriendly restaurant.

The Nigerian Naira that I have left over from March — bottom left — I never could find a buyer for. No one in Kenya, South Africa or the U.S. will take the Naira off my hands. Very curious.

Another thing that struck me oddly in Nairobi last night: Like I said, my big bag — left — was checked all the way through from Johannesburg to Norfolk, which is good.

And my computer briefcase — upper right — is fine, of course. But as I went to board the huge KLM jet from Nairobi to Amsterdam, a little Kenyan airport official stepped forward to inform me that my carry-on bag was too large to carry on.

Again, very interesting. It was good enough to get me to Kenya in three legs earlier this month. It got me to Johannesburg a week ago. It got me to Pietermaritzburg and back just fine. That’s six times on this one trip I’ve carried that bag on. So why is it suddenly “too large”?

Occasionally, when I’m boarding a tiny “puddlejumper” plane, the airline will ask to put a tag on the bag and then return it to me at the top of the ramp when we arrive. That’s fine. But I keep my camera in that bag, so I have no intention of checking my carry-on. It just ain’t gonna happen. Plus, this KLM flight was aboard no “puddlejumper.” This was aboard a new 747-400.

So I did something I rarely do: I argued with the guy. And he backed down. Quickly. Which struck me as odd.

Whatever.

Once aboard the plane,  I found my seat smack in the middle of the middle section. A nightmare for someone like myself who depends on a bulkhead so I can sleep. And, of course, I don’t really fit in airline seats anyway. So I would doubly screwed here.

In fact, I couldn’t even get my tray down in order to eat dinner and breakfast. Especially when the guy in front of me leaned his chair back.

The young lady to my right was kind enough to allow me to share her tray.

I skipped dinner but did eat breakfast. Which was delicious. How do I know? Because the label told me so.

Ah, a delicious meal. As opposed to the other kind. Got it.

I slept fitfully, dreaming of being trapped in an airline seat that is neither wide enough nor has enough legroom for me and of not having a place to flop my head.

Sigh. What a miserable night.

So when we arrived in Amsterdam a few hours ago, I felt awful, looked awful and was in an awful mood. So it wasn’t difficult to choose a place where I could feel at home and eat a familiar meal.

The McDonald’s here in the Amsterdam airport is gorgeous. And huge. And has lots of receptacles where you can plug in your laptop and linger a while.

I love the decorative garbage cans I’m finding here in Holland. Makes me wish I could read Hollandaise.

I set up, downloaded my messages, topped off my battery.

I even loaned my power adapter to a guy who was desperately seeking a way to charge up his phone.

The one thing I did not do immediately was take a shower. I had spent much of the previous few hours sweating profusely. I had hoped to buy some shower time here, but the gentleman whose phone needed recharging made use of them and was saying nothing but bad things about them.

So I sat there at McDonald’s, checked my messages and wrote up this blog post. Just as I went to post it: Bam! My internet service crapped out. And this was after I had paid for an entire day.

Well, hell. My luck during this return trip has been bad. But at least it’s been consistent.

Trying to turn that around, I went over to the hotel/shower area and rented a shower stall. Which turned out to be a fabulous idea.

I was just settling in for a long soak when — Bam! — the water cut off. Just like my internet service. Wow. I must have used too much bandwidth or something.

No, it turned out the water control works for only about three minutes at a time. Punch the button and it immediately turns on again. This kept me from exiting my shower room with a scalp full of soap.

The shower felt so good. I won’t say I was a new man when I got out. But I was certainly less shopworn than I had been before. And looked less shopworn, too, I’d guess.

Another issue: I keep having coughing fits. During my two weeks in Kenya, I found myself reacting, most likely, to something blooming there. And then an infection set into my lungs. I’ve been coughing ever since.

I’ve long ago used up all my American cough drops. I stocked up on enough South African cough drops to get me home… or so I thought. In fact, they barely got me to Amsterdam.

So I set off down the concourse in search of a pharmacy where I might find sugar-free cough lozenges.

Mission accomplished.

So now I’ve taken a shower, stocked up on “sans sucre” cough drops, eaten two Egg McMuffins and had five Diet Cokes. I think I’m about ready for the next leg of my journey.

I’ll arrive in Boston at 1 p.m. EDT, which will be 7 p.m. South African time. I’ll have a five-hour-and-forty-five-minute layover before departing for Norfolk. I should be home by 8:35 p.m. tonight.

I’ll be tired as hell. But I bet I’ll sleep well.

My blog entries for this trip, so far…

A whirlwind news design expedition to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

After two weeks of visual journalism teaching in Kenya and three more days of teaching and consulting here in Johannesburg, South Africa, my clients here — Media24 — sent me to Pietermaritzburg for two half-days.

I rose bright and early Thursday, checked out of my hotel and drove over to the nearby suburb of Melville. Where I had to pull over to shoot the sun rising over Joburg.

My traveling companion this week was Arlene Prinsloo, typographical editor for Media24’s Afrikaans-language papers and, for my money, the country’s greatest news designer and teacher.

We flew to Durban — down along the coast of South Africa — and then drove up to Pietermaritzburg, where the offices of the Witness — the country’s longest continually-published newspaper — are located.

We met with Angela Quintal, editor of the Witness and someone whose work I’ve admired for ages.

Angela is eager to do new and exciting things with her 20,000-circulation newspaper and with her talented staff.

For example, check out the clever Chad le Clos marketing poster the Witness published Thursday.

Angela showed us around her newsroom. Here, Arlene and I meet the paper’s graphics team.

We shuffled upstairs to the paper’s boardroom, where I gave the same Graphics for Word People presentation that I had given at least four times over the past three weeks.

Even though Thursday was a holiday, we had a full room of staffers.

The presentation includes a healthy batch of alternative story forms, something I believe in strongly. The staffers responded positively to the ASF samples I showed.

Afterwards, it was time for the afternoon news meeting. Arlene and I were invited to stay.

In the U.S., we call it a story budget. Here, as you can see, the Witness calls it a diary.

Something I’ve never seen before: The chief sub-editor prints out a screen capture of the amount of space they have in that day’s paper and adds it to the budget.

The story of the day was the Olympics. Gold medal-winning swimmer Chad le Clos had returned to town that day. Meanwhile, a kayaker had won bronze, a men’s relay team had been reinstated to the finals and two more South Africans were up for possible medals later that night.

Someone asked if this might be a time for one of the ASFs we had just talked about. So I immediately sketched up something with five horizontal pictures and text boxes.

A few moments later, I made a second sketch with five vertical pictures. And a few moments after that, I drew up a third sketch that showed how we could use a horizontal lead picture and then place four more pictures below that.

The consensus was the second sketch would do the trick. Everyone sprang into action. We canceled our dinner reservations and ordered pizza instead.

Something I’ve noticed before: Pizza here in South Africa tastes a whole lot better than it does in the U.S. I’m not sure why.

The newsroom atmosphere was very similar to that of a U.S. paper. Whenever a South African athlete was competing, work would come to a standstill while everyone watched the TVs mounted on the walls.

Meanwhile, chief sub editor Kate Hoole plugged away on Friday’s front page.

Arlene and I stayed around most of the evening, just in case they needed our expertise. And, in fact, they didn’t. I was amazed at how well Kate picked up on my lessons and ran with the assignment.

Here, Arlene shows Kate a shortcut hidden in the Eidos publishing system. In addition to being a news design guru, Arlene is also an Eidos super user.

And here’s the result. Click for a larger view.

That page is just stunning, especially when you take into consideration a) the small staff, and b) how rapidly it came together. I don’t think I’ve ever had a group of “students” who learned so rapidly and then put everything into practice quite so quickly.

Funny thing, though. While roaming around the newsroom, I found this old front page from way back in 1994, when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as president.

Check out the little numbered boxes downpage. Clearly, even the editor at that time was willing to consider alternative story treatments.

Kate noticed my interest and came over to explain the story behind the illustration atop the page. A production staffer, eager to play a role in the historic front page, took it upon himself to build the rainbow art using mylar flaps, amberlith and a large coffee can as a template.

Completely exhausted and seeing that Kate had the page well in hand, Arlene and I finally left the Witness newsroom and drove back over to our guest house where we passed out, rather than fell asleep. Or, at least, I did.

I received my first clue as to the beauty of the area when the early morning sun streamed through the window of my room.

The name of the guest house — the Thorntree Inn — was ironic, given the amount of time I had spent in the Thorntree Cafe at the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi. My room was nice and large, with twin beds, hardwood floors…

…and a nice sofa. And, of course, that wonderful window.

This was the opposite wing of the place. I think Arlene’s room was over this way.

This was some sort of outparcel. A VIP room, perhaps? Or perhaps the owners’ residence?

That wooded area afront the outparcel was an arboretum, rich with various trees and shrubs. A few were even noted for interested visitors. Including the Inn’s namesake tree, here.

This is the main entrance to the dining and common areas of the inn.

I walked in to find Arlene already at a table, enjoying tea in the early morning sun.

The view from the dining room balcony was gorgeous, with a fog slowly burning off.

The area wasn’t nearly as cold as it had been in Johannesburg the past few days. But it was indeed chilly. Especially early in the morning.

Arlene and I had a wonderful breakfast…

…and then rushed out to our car, pausing to photograph nest-building finches in front of the bed-and-breakfast.

Click for a larger view so you can actually see the bright yellow finches.

We then drove back to the paper for a few busy hours teaching more sessions, talking more logistics and doling out pats on the back for the wonderful work on page one. I’m told Angela received traffic via Twitter and other venues that indicated a positive response to the ASF.

By noon, it was time to leave. Arlene and I scrambled back to the airport, ate a quick lunch — we didn’t want to forget lunch like we had done on Thursday — and got me to my departure gate just in time. I had to say my goodbyes to Arlene, who few back to her home in Cape Town.

I arrived back at the Garden Court hotel in the Auckland Park region of Johannesburg shortly after sunset. The woman at the desk — who remembers me very well after my two-month stay here back in 2009 — insisted on booking me into a “special” accommodation.

Which turned out to be this huge, double-sized room on the sixth floor.

I really enjoyed this room, for the one whole night I was here. Wow. I felt like such a VIP.

I repacked my suitcase for my trip today, checked in with Sharon and tried to get caught up on some of my correspondence. I did manage to record a video recapping our experience this week in Pietermaritzburg.

After a brief but enjoyable night’s sleep, I dragged myself out of bed early this morning for what I realized would be my final visual treat for this three-week trip: The sun rising over the Hillbrow section of Johannesburg.

Spectacular.

So now I’m in the final stages of packing for my trip home. From wheels up here in Johannesburg to wheels down in Norfolk, my transit time is 37 hours and 15 minutes.

Here’s a look at my itinerary:

This isn’t going to be comfortable at all. But that’s the price of having such interesting work for the past three weeks.

I’ll try to keep you posted along the way.

My blog entries for this trip, so far…

Did you stay with me all the way through the credits?

Cool. Now, for a little Avengers movie-like fun.

After I returned from Pietermaritzburg last night, I went out with friends for a quick dinner. Walking through the shopping center, I came across a fast-food joint with this sign.

Yes, Tony Stark’s “shwarma” really exists. Here’s what it really looks like, on a roasting spit.

Got to admit, I’ve not tried it.

There’s no front pages like snow front pages

I wrote about the rare snow the folks here in Johannesburg enjoyed Tuesday.

In fact, we had a few more flakes again late that night. It was so damned cold, however, that no one really wanted to go outside and enjoy it.

Naturally, South African newspapers played up the snow as if it were the second coming.

This is Beeld, the big Afrikaans-language daily published by my clients. The headline says:

It’s snowing!

Our wedding!

Apparently, the couple in the secondary picture had vowed to get married the next time it snowed in Johannesburg. Kind of like saying “when hell freezes over.”

Well, it snowed in Joburg. So they kept their promise.

Personally, I think the editors passed up a great opportunity to play off of the larger picture with this headline:

Its snowing! No lion!

Ah, maybe not.

The Star with with the ol’ “icy grip” approach.

I don’t think they got quite that much white stuff here in town. That would be points south and southeast of here. In fact, I’m told a number of the cross-country roads have been closed.

Which is also the case for the Witness of Pietermaritzburg, where I’ll be later today. It didn’t snow much in PMB. But roads through the mountains northwest of there were impassable.

The New Age went with “Winter wonderland” in blue, punctuated with little tufts of snow.

The best headline of the day, however, was by the Citizen.

It’s hard to top that one.

After a whirlwind day Tuesday consulting here at MediaPark in Johanesburg, Wednesday flew by even more quickly. I spent the morning meeting with my old friends at Sake24, the business section that inserts into the Afrikaans-language newspapers. I helped them brainstorm an upcoming package — taking time to point out ways to conceptualize such projects — we critiqued a few recent pages that fell short. And we carved out time for me to give a quick slideshow lecture on alternative story forms.

After lunch, I met with a designer from Volksblaad, the company’s smaller paper in Bloemfontein. I critiqued a number of pages and we discussed what design devices set into play in the paper’s last redesign — late last year — are working and which are not.

It wasn’t until I got back to my hotel last night that I discovered — with horror — that I had been so busy Wednesday that I had failed to take any pictures at all of my three sessions. In particular, I would have liked to have a souvenir of my late Wednesday meeting with City Press — one of my favorite papers here in South Africa — and it’s legendary Ferial Haffajee. D’oh! I’ll have to check with the newspaper group’s typographical editor Arlene Prinsloo. Perhaps she took a few she could loan me.

I did, however, get a snapshot of the gorgeous boardroom there at City Press were I held court Monday and Wednesday.

The room is surrounded on three sides by glass walls. Those two you see look out into the front parking lot and Kingsway Drive, beyond. The wall to the left and behind me, as I made this picture, looks out into the MediaPark complex atrium.

This was a hell of a place to call home for two days this week. I’ve felt like such a VIP.

I got back to my hotel late last night completely exhausted with the intent to blog and pack for my trip. Instead I ate a quick dinner, laid down in my bed and fell asleep.

As I said a moment ago, Arlene and I are leaving bright and early this morning for Pietermaritzburg, roughly 300 miles southeast of here and near the coast of the Indian Ocean. And where it’s considerably warmer than it is here in Johannesburg.

The flight is only an hour. As you can see here, it’s roughly the equivalent of flying from Pittsburgh to Norfolk.

We’ll meet this afternoon and Friday morning with editor Angela Quintel — whose work I’ve admired for years — and the staff of the Witness newspaper.

I should add that today is a national holiday here in South Africa: It’s National Women’s Day.

Friday afternoon, Arlene flies home to Cape Town and I return here for one more night in chilly Joburg before I begin my long, long trek for home on Saturday: Joburg to Nairobi to Amsterdam to Boston to Norfolk.

I’ll arrive home late Sunday night. And my brain — what’s left of it — will be fried.

My blog for this trip, so far…

My week — so far — consulting in Johannesburg, South Africa

After two weeks of teaching and consulting in Nairobi, Kenya, I’m now in Johannesburg, South Africa. Where I’m also doing a bit of consulting work for my longtime clients at Media24, the country’s largest media company.

I’m staying at the Garden Court hotel in the Auckland Park suburb in northwest Johannesburg. Here in the hotel with me are two — count ’em, two — sports teams: The national women’s netball team — a few of whom you see here dressed in red sweatshirts — and the men’s under-20 soccer team — dressed here in green jerseys.

As you might imagine, this has made for interesting times in the hotel. I’m sure glad I’m not a coach. Or a chaperone.

Once I’ve picked my way through the crowds at the breakfast buffet, I drive over to MediaPark, where several of Media24’s newspapers are headquartered. My first day here — just walking into the building, in fact — I ran into Siyabonga Africa, a new digital strategist who was reporting for his own very first day of work.

Oddly enough, my “temporary” company ID still worked from my last visit. What’s more, the woman at the security desk recognized me from my previous visits. So I vouched for Siya and got him past the front desk and down to the cafeteria, where I bought him a hot tea.

Siya is a brilliant guy. I’m so tickled to see him working with these folks. He’s gonna do great stuff here.

Once the rest of my entourage arrived — namely, Arlene Prinsloo, national typographical editor for Media24’s Afrikaans-language newspapers — it was time to head up to a gorgeous, glass-enclosed boardroom where we’d hold our sessions Monday.

This trip is much different than any other I’ve made. I’ve not been hired to teach slideshow lectures on print design or hands-on inforgraphics workshops. Instead, I’ve been asked to sit down with seven of the company’s newspapers, look over various editions, prototypes or whatnot and offer input.

I feel like such a VIP. Very strange.

Here I am Monday morning with the leadership of the English-language nationally-distributed tabloid Daily Sun.

We discussed their overall look and aspects of their design that might be better. They told me about possible changes in the paper and I brainstormed approaches they might make.

Sure enough, though, the topic of infographics and alternative story forms came up time and time again. So Arlene called for a projector, I fired up my trusty MacBook Pro and we looked at a number of examples from my slideshows.

I love the way editors here are plugged in with technology and social media. Give folks a three-minute break and they all whip out their Droids and Blackberries.

Monday afternoon was reserved for die Burger, the large Afrikaans daily in Cape Town, for which I’ve done so much work in the past. You get a sense of how many pages we’re looking over by this shot of Arlene taking notes.

The good news: We managed to hit every item on our grocery list of topics. The bad news: They won’t necessarily like my advice on each item.

Monday afternoon, we happened to stroll past the offices of Sondag, an Afrikaans-language tabloid based here in Johannesburg. Earlier this year, I redesigned the nameplate for the paper. Arlene took a picture of me clowning around in front of a sign using the new design.

Tuesday morning, we met with the staff of Sondag. I hadn’t actually seen my new nameplate used in print. I couldn’t get over how nice it looked. My thought: I’m no Jim Parkinson. But this must be how he feels every time he picks up damned near any paper in the world.

Moments after Arlene took that picture, however, I flipped the page. Only to come face to, um, face with Sondag‘s gigantic “page three” girl.

Yikes! Wasn’t expecting that. The entire staff laughed as I found myself speechless for a moment or two.

Arlene then posted that picture — but without the edits — to Facebook. I’m mildly surprised that Facebook didn’t ban me for that.

Tuesday marked the first time ever that I worked in a room that also contained a foosball table.

The editors told me a little about their “digital first” plans. Which got me all fired up: I decided they really, really needed to see the segment of the digital graphics presentation I gave in Kenya last week. Here, we’re watching a video of former BostonGlobe.com design director Miranda Mulligan talk about the logic behind and the power of responsive web design.

If I spend the rest of my career doing nothing but showing Miranda Mulligan interviews from YouTube, then perhaps it’d still be a worthy career.

At one point — when I was offering up samples of infographics a copy desk might be able to produce without major time or resources — our proxima projector suddenly crapped out on us. So went went to Plan B: Just gather everyone around the ol’ laptop.

We then took a few minutes to sit down with the relatively new online app manager, Seb Stent — and his new right-hand man here in Joburg, the aforementioned Siyabonga Africa — to get an update on what they’re up to.

Naturally, I can’t share the details. Other than to say: 1) I’m impressed. 2) I’m delighted. And 3) I made them promise to keep me posted so I can write about their work here in the blog, when the time comes.

That’s a quick overview of some of the work we’ve done here this week. So far.

The weather here — where, by the way, it’s the dead of winter — has been slightly chilly at night but perfectly comfortable in short sleeves during the day. Well, no longer. When I left my hotel this morning, the temperature was below freezing. It’s so strange to see this place — where I’ve spent so much time over the past two or three years –with bare trees.

A low, blue-grey cloud lingered over Johannesburg. I couldn’t help but notice there was a 40 percent chance of snow Tuesday afternoon. Johannesburg never gets snow, so that was hard to believe.

Until you saw the clouds.

Sure enough — shortly before lunch — all hell broke loose when it started snowing here. Smack atop the U.S. visual journalism consultant who doesn’t have the first long-sleeved shirt with him this trip.

Yeah, it was definitely facepalm time.

Work around the entire MediaPark complex came to a halt as everyone ran out onto the various terraces and posed for pictures in the rapidly-falling snow.

One guy told me this was only the third time it had snowed here in Joburg in his lifetime.

The Washington Post reported this was the first snowfall in Johannesburg since 2008. The Associated Press reported that it also snowed in Pretoria — the capital of South Africa, about an hour north of here — for the first time since 1968.

It was really fun to see everyone enjoy the white stuff. Which, frankly, didn’t stick for very long.

And here’s a little video of the excitement.

Fun stuff.

Tonight, the cold is just brutal: As  I write this, the temperature outside is 34 — with a wind chill of 23 — and, yes, we’re getting more “light snow.” Just enough to make the roads slick but not enough to actually collect on the ground. The high tomorrow is forecast to be a relatively balmy 54.

I work here in Joburg another day tomorrow before we fly over to Pietermaritzburg, not far from the coast along the Indian Ocean. I’m told we’ll enjoy daily highs in the high 60s and low 70s there on Thursday and Friday.

Friday, I’ll fly back to Johannesburg for one last night here. Saturday, I depart for home.

Where, presumably, it will not be snowing.

My blog for this trip, so far…

I can die happy now

The South African Netball team — which is staying here in the same hotel as me, in the Auckland Park area of Johannesburg — was kind enough tonight to pose with me for a picture.

Frankly, I had never heard of Netball before. It’s a lot like U.S. women’s basketball was back in the 1950s or 1960s: Seven per team; all passing and no dribbling. Here is the South African team’s official home page.

The ladies themselves, of course, are absolutely stunning. But you can see that for yourself.

My blog for this trip, so far…