Take a look at this chart from Time’s March 31, 2008 issue:
You’ll often hear about the importance of journalistic integrity and the importance of objectivity and impartiality when reporting news. The above chart may well convey nothing that can be construed as inaccurate or skewed. Words are words. But alas, the art of marketing, however slyly introduced, is clearly at play.
- The questions are posed such that McCain answers in the negative. They could have easily been rephrased such that the reverse is shown. In the final question, McCain responds with "Maybe" (and yes, to a reader, it is McCain "responding"). "Maybe" can be perceived any number of ways: shady, indecisive, secretive or simply lacking clarity.
- This one’s a kicker: in response to the Hedge Funds row, all three candidates are assigned "No’s." I’ll admit I didn’t even notice this until the third or fourth time I glanced at the chart. The visual power of the right-hand column colored in red overwhelms the actual content.
- The No’s and Maybe are colored in red while Hillary’s and Obama’s responses are in a gray-blue. So what do colors mean? Read means: no, stop, angry, hot-tempered, emotional, simmering. Blue means: calm, soothing, stability, wisdom, trust, confidence. Red is hell. Blue is heaven. (There are numerous articles out there on colors and emotions.)
I’m not going to go so far as to say that there is a sinister plot brewing at Time magazine. But the above illustrates just how powerful even the most subtle tweaks on how information is presented can affect not only how we digest information but how we perceive it and digest it. Such tactics are well known and used extensively in marketing and campaign circles, which is OK, because to most the caveat is already in place. "It’s just marketing." The above reminds of those in-between advertising links that look like articles when they’re really just more ads masked as such. Except with the above, it isn’t. It’s just Time magazine reporting.
Note: this post isn’t meant to convey a preference or bias towards a particular presidential candidate. It’s merely put forward to illustrate how information design can be used to shape perceptions.