Public Editor

When colors blend, graphics can confuse readers

There is a lot more to journalism than just the written word. Especially in our increasingly visual landscape, video, photos, illustrations and graphics can sometimes convey information more clearly and efficiently than prose.

An emailer pointed out a special issue with the maps in the March 17 edition of The Kansas City Star showing Missouri’s presidential primary vote tallies:

“The maps on page 5A of today’s paper were obviously not reviewed by a colorblind person to see if they were usable or not,” he emailed. “I can’t tell which is a Bernie county versus a Hillary county at all.”

I can understand his confusion. While the Republicans’ map was colored in shades varying from green to brown, the Democrats’ went from purple to blue — not as much contrast.

Viewing the graphics in their native form on the computer screen, I also see that maps’ colors were considerably muddier in the print copies I looked at than the original versions. Newspaper printing can be an inexact science, though The Star’s still-new press plant is one of the most precise in the world, according to an outside organization that evaluates them.

Perhaps ironically, the head of The Star’s art and design department is actually very slightly colorblind himself, so he told me he tries to be sensitive to considerations of legibility with color, pattern and other graphical elements.

The reader who emailed me suggested that designers use technology to prevent similar issues in the future. One such tool is the fascinating Color Blindness Simulation Tool at the blog Color-Blindness.com. It allows you to upload an image, then see what it would look like to people who have eight different types of colorblindness, from Red-Blind/Protanopia to Blue Cone Monochromacy.

The digital world has opened up information to readers with reduced vision in ways almost unimaginable just a generation ago. But traditional considerations of print’s inherent pitfalls (and strengths) will always endure.

No ‘Trumping’

I heard many objections to the headline across the top of the March 13 Sports Daily cover.

“Trump that!” it read, over the story about Kansas’ 81-71 victory over West Virginia in the NCAA tournament.

“Keep politics out of sports!” wrote one representative emailer.

“It took the joy out of the article to see that despicable name/word in the headline,” wrote another.

The idea came from sports editor Jeff Rosen’s solicitation to his Twitter followers after the game. The people who suggested it (and alternately “Trump this!”) were referring to the fact that Donald Trump was holding a campaign rally just two blocks from the tournament at Sprint Center.

Does “Trump that!” really have any meaning specific to the media-hungry entrepreneur turned politician? I have to confess that I don’t really understand how anyone could consider it either approving or condemning in this context. It looks like nothing more than a pun on a name with a commonly used meaning in our vernacular.

However, these readers’ comments are another excellent reminder that people can perceive intent or even bias even when it isn’t intended.

Journalists need to be especially aware of those potential subjective connotations during election season. And with two current front-runners who are both astoundingly unpopular, I suspect I’ll hear a lot more of the same.

Derek Donovan: 816-234-4487, @kcstarpublic

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