Monday, October 18, 2010

A meeting with a self-taught, award-winning graphics editor


Some weeks ago, I met the dashing Jeff Goertzen at The Park Hotel in Chennai. He could very easily pass off as a rock star; he has the looks and the get-up to match. But the soft-spoken Jeff is the award-winning graphics editor at The Denver Post and consultant-at-large.

Editors know how important information graphics is in making a newspaper more readable, more attractive, considering that the challenge is to communicate news to readers in the shortest possible time. Jeff, though, is modest. “If there was one department in a newspaper that had to go, we’d be the one. You cannot have a newspaper without text of course, or without photos. You could do without information graphics if you had to. But I think our work is important. It can help simplify or clarify information and give you a visual reference,” he says. He was in Chennai to conduct a workshop for WAN-IFRA on Infographics for Print and Online.

“There’s been an explosion in graphics outside of the US. I was fortunate in being a part of that and getting that started in Spain when I was hired by El Mundo and we started doing graphics there,” says Jeff, adding, “We were the first to do investigative reporting with infographics. He talks about a massacre that took place in a small town in Spain, a family feud that had gone on for 30 years. I sent an artist by car, a four-hour drive, before Internet and cell phones arrived to investigate and fax to us diagram of what happened. That started the whole craze in Spain. We’ve also seen an increase in the quality of illustrations; with 3D graphics coming up we’ve got a lot of guys doing phenomenal work, even hand drawings – the work is getting really good, beautiful, aesthetic.”

Jeff, who has served on the board for the Society for News Design for 11 years, got hooked to graphics in the 1970s when he was in high school. “In an interview that lasted only five minutes with the San Diego Union Tribune, I discovered I could work in an art department in newspapers and that is what I did. I’ve been drawing since I was a little kid. I’ve got pictures of when I was a baby with a pencil in my hand. I didn’t really learn anything in high school or college about art; I learned on my own,” he explains.

Jeff's first job was with the Orange County Register as an intern graphic artist, in 1986. He has worked with Mario Garcia and Roger Black, visited more than 40 countries and worked as consultant for more than 100 newspapers. “I have seen pretty much any situation I can imagine in a newsroom. I’ve experienced diverse cultures – I love culture. In my years in journalism as a profession I have learned a lot more than I have in school. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of educational experience.”

Jeff's message for youngsters: “If you have the desire and talent, use it. For anybody wanting to work in graphics in any form, information graphics is probably the best. Your work is published everyday, and if you goof up you got the next day to make it better.”

Picture shows Jeff at the workshop.

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