Engaging news audiences through art

By Samantha Shotzbarger

Lauren Fuhrmann, the associate director of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, spoke to the PIN Bureau about measuring journalistic impact, and she shared one of the inventive new ways the Center’s staff is helping readers visualize information gathered during investigations. In short, they’re turning facts into artwork.

Engaging readers with statistics and numerical data can be difficult. Sometimes numbers just don’t jump off the page and might not be as visually appealing as a photograph or video. However, when visualized, the data can become more engaging and create a lasting impact for those who would not have connected with the numbers alone.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has embarked on a project to visualize data through the creation of data-driven sculptures created by artist Carrie Roy


A sculpture representing how much manure one cow produces in one day. (Photo by Wisconsin Center for Investigative Reporting)

The organization received $35,000 from the Knight Foundation’s INNovation Fund to create the visual, data artwork that represents “facts you read in a story and you really don’t get,” associate director Lauren Fuhrmann told the PIN Bureau. Looking at the artwork helps drive the impact, Fuhrmann said.

“As we started thinking about it more…this is an awesome idea,” Fuhrmann noted of the project, adding that the Center plans to bring the sculptures to events in the future, introducing them to new audiences and engaging readers with interactive displays.

The project started when the Center’s multimedia director and investigative reporter, Kate Golden, discussed findings she discovered during her reporting.

“Like how the concentration of cows in northeastern Wisconsin has risen, increasing concerns that manure that could contaminate private wells,” Golden explained in a story about the project on the Center’s website.

Roy has created a wooden sculpture of half a cow standing on a pile of manure. The sculpture, “One Day In Brown County,” represents how much manure the average Wisconsin cow produces each day.

For another sculpture, Roy carved a water well from two different shades of wood, representing how one-third of Wisconsin’s wells contain water tainted by pesticides.

These data-driven sculptures may inspire conversations while on tour, bring the engagement to new communities and introduce more people to the work of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

The Center also intends to auction off the artwork at the conclusion of the project, which could prove to be a new source of revenue for the nonprofit newsroom.

This project represents how innovation in journalism doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to emerging technology. We’re looking forward to hearing more about the sculptures and their travels.


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