In his autobiography Drawn from Memory, cartoonist John T. McCutcheon, who won the Chicago Tribune's first Pulitzer Prize in 1932, writes that his friends always seemed to be amused by the expressions he made as he sketched. The faces that appear throughout this website are McCutcheon's self-portraits.
I met McCutcheon's son, Jack, while working on an exhibit of newspaper graphics. He was a retired newsman himself, helping out part-time in the Tribune's archives, and was delighted to see so much of his father's work included in the show.
The faces, so simple yet so expressive, captured the essence of The Art of the Message—the name of the show—and were used for the signage.
Jack generously gave his blessing for me to use them personally. These wonderful drawings have served as an inspiration and reminders of the elegance and power of simplicity. They also make me smile every time I see them.
Digital technology has blurred the lines between newspaper, magazine, broadcast, book, textbook, lecture, conference and exhibition—all formats with which I have had some experience. The possibilities are extraordinary. I now look at everything through a digital media lens, noting information flows, collaborative potential and how new value might be leveraged through different contexts and platforms. I look for connections that cross disciplines and platforms that combine media.
As a writer, editor, curator, producer, photographer and managing director of a suite of children’s media properties, the core challenge is the same: finding compelling ways to present information that is useful and, depending on the project, entertaining as well.
TrackerNews, a demo news aggregator developed for InSTEDD (an independent spin-off of Google.org's humanitarian practice), provided a wonderful opportunity to experiment with a number of ideas around contextual relevance and information as a flexible asset. The format was simple: Suites of between 8 and 40 links about topics bridging the health, humanitarian and tech beats cycled through the site together: news stories, research papers, videos, podcasts, websites, books and digital tools that then went into a searchable database. The defining metric was the quality of the link, which made it possible to include relatively obscure but brilliant research papers that might not get many hits. From epidemiology to climate change, mobile tech to energy grids, and agriculture to demographic trends, the project's twin missions were to expand awareness across sectors while creating an increasingly valuable resource.
The team also experimented with a personal aggregation tool that in some ways anticipated Pinterest, allowing users to create and group their own categories and sub-categories of links. By putting the “human algorithm” back into the equation, we hoped to counter balance the limitations and skews of search engine “filter bubbles.”
Today, the ease with which digital content can be created presents both an opportunity and a challenge. Almost any organization can and likely should add publishing to its repertoire, but information assets can quickly become stranded assets unless packaged in formats that are convenient and presented in contexts that are useful. I founded Arc, an editorial practice, to help companies, conferences, research institutions and foundations do just that. The revolution in digital publishing over the last couple of years has truly changed the game. Media aren't just for media companies anymore. New and powerful platforms have slashed production and distribution costs, while providing almost endless options to repurpose, bundle and share content. The lessons of TrackerNews project have become even more relevant.
This website is set up as a digital portfolio. Each of the four main sections includes a background essay, captioned photographs, slideshows and videos:
Projects in one area have inspired or otherwise informed projects in others. The Art of the Message, a large survey exhibit on the evolution of the modern newspaper as a graphic medium, sparked an idea for a nationally syndicated newspaper children's section called curiocity. Work on the television documentary Wildlife Wars led to a special report on invasive diseases for BusinessWeek magazine. And, of course, my ongoing work with children's author and visual learning strategist Stuart J. Murphy has deepened my understanding of design and visual communication, with implications across the board.
There are also digital versions of two exhibitions on the website: The Art of the Message and Mickey Pallas Photographs, a retrospective of the work of a Chicago-based photojournalist, with an introduction by Studs Terkel.