Graphics Builder Bob gets ready for war: ‘Can we do it? Yes we can’

Originally published: Monday, March 03, 2003

It’s early afternoon Sunday on the East Coast and the war hasn’t started yet.

That’s a good thing. I was guessing if the U.S. hasn’t started bombing by lunchtime, then we wouldn’t be at war this weekend.

Friday afternoon, just as I was about to get a jump on the weekend by leaving early, my managing editor dropped by to tell me he had gotten word the war might, in fact, begin this weekend. Apparently some of the major TV networks had issued an alert to affiliates. He wanted to make sure the graphics department was ready.

We are.

A little background about my department and our war prep: I have five artists who work for me at the Des Moines Register. Of the six of us, two have degrees in journalism and one has a degree in Visual Journalism. Therefore, three of the six of us are qualified and comfortable researching and writing material for graphics. A fourth is a pretty good researcher but is still refining his writing abilities.

All this research/writing firepower gives us a leg up on breaking news. Rather than wait for the wires to move usable graphics, we have no problem scanning bulletins and wire stories and compiling diagrams on equipment, processes and locations mentioned in the reports. During big breaking news events — 9/11, the Afghan War, the Space Shuttle — we were able to produce detailed graphics, get them edited and on the page hours before we received suitable wire graphics.

We started preparing for a possible war with Iraq last fall. Matt Chatterley produced an enormous doubletruck map of the Mideast, including a timeline of Saddam’s reign, who’s who in power in Iraq, primary Iraqi military installments, and so on. Since he had time, he illustrated a wonderful watercolor underdrawing to serve as the background for the map. He finished the piece in October and has been updating it every other week or so ever since. It’s been edited by the copy desk and toned by our production department. It’s literally ready to run right now.

Also, Matt and Jeff Bash have been compiling nearly every war-related graphic from our two graphics wires: Associated Press and the Gannett News Service. They’re filed as to subject: maps, processes, politics, hardware and background material that we could rip up to create new pieces. We have them filed electronically on our graphics server and as hard copies.

We have base maps of Iraq ready to run in color and black-and-white, at any size between one and four columns wide.

I don’t normally query my staff on their weekend whereabouts, but I have lately — I want to make sure at least a few of them will be available if news breaks. Sure enough, all six of us are in town this weekend and willing to rush downtown if needed.

We’ve updated all our bookmarks and links to the official sources on which we’ll rely when hostilities break out. Below, I’ll list a few of these. I’ll also be telling you about more as the need arises.

For now, though, here are a few sources that might be of graphic help:

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE IMAGES Here you can find official high-rez photos from DoD. This could be helpful if you’re looking for, say, file art of a particular aircraft carrier on which folks in your coverage area might be serving. Once bombs start falling and the DoD begins holding news conferences, click on “News Photos” and then “Slides” to see all the visual aids used during the briefings.

FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS AIRCRAFT INDEX This is an enormous database of military aircraft. Click on the hardware you’re looking for to receive a detailed write-up, specs (handy for those thumbnail graphics) and low- and high-rez photos. We used to go to Jane’s for this kind of info. Now we go here.

FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS SYSTEMS INDEX The same site, but back up a level. From here, you can access not only that aircraft page but also indexes of various bombs (both smart and dumb), missile systems, ships and so on. There’s a lot of good stuff here. Beware the page showing “current status” of the U.S. fleet, however. It’s a bit out-of-date.

CIA WORLD FACTBOOK If you’re still compiling basic data and maps of various countries likely to be involved in a possible conflict, avoid outdated encyclopedias and almanacs and get info from the same sources they use: The CIA. Not only is there a wealth of demographic and geographic material available for every country on the planet, there is also stuff available like military strength and political analyses. Check it out.

Apparently there WERE some strikes this morning, but they were related to violations of the “No-fly zone” and not necessarily the opening of full-scale bombing. I guess we get a few more days to prepare.

Charles Apple, Graphics Editor at The Des Moines Register is also an API discussion leader. Send e-mail to Apple