BEHIND THE BYLINE | Get to know the people who report our news
Mark Nowlin creates award-winning infographics for our most important news stories.
Under normal (or pre-pandemic) circumstances, how do you approach your work?
A normal day (is there really ever such a thing?) starts with checking the graphics request log. I look through the requests to see which are for tomorrow’s paper or for an online story posting that afternoon and how much information the reporter has provided. I then contact the reporter to discuss the request and flesh out what is needed to help readers get the clearest understanding of the event, process or facts. Once the reporter and I have created an outline, I follow up with the sources. After I have all or most of the information, I do some quick sketches, and I begin building the graphic in Adobe Illustrator. I’ll then send the graphic to the reporter to make sure it’s on track. Once the source and the reporter sign off, it goes to the editor and then to the copy desk for editing, and then into the publishing system.
Do you think there are aspects of the events happening in our lives right now — the pandemic, the recession, a new presidential administration, social justice movements — that are best told in a visual or graphic way?
While the events happening over the past year are on a global scale and are often overlapping, the need for context and deciphering of information through informational graphics, data visualizations or annotated illustrations remains the same as when I worked on news events such as the Oso landslide, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the 2001 Nisqually earthquake or the WTO riots. The events of the past year are lasting longer by months than the past events, but the storytelling and importance are the same.
How have the pandemic and stay-at-home restrictions impacted your work?
Working remotely has had both pluses and minuses. On the plus side, there are much fewer distractions from being in the newsroom — reporters talking to each other and to editors, editors and reporters stopping by for a “quick” chat about a future project or if I remember a graphic that was done in the last five years that might work for a current story. I also don’t have to worry about finishing in time to catch the bus home. The minus side is that the editing of graphics is all done through email or Slack instead of face-to-face where I could get an instant response and clarification from the reporter or editor. Now there is a delay, and if the internet connection on my end or theirs is slow, it can be a very long delay.
Thinking back over the last year or so, what pieces of your work have been your favorite or most important?
Last year in July, due to the reaction of law enforcement to the protests and demonstrations for social justice and against killings by police, I researched and created a graphic on the devices and projectiles used by law enforcement agencies to disperse crowds. It explained how and when they were developed and possible harm they can inflict on people if used improperly. It also noted which are used by the Seattle Police Department.
In 2019, I researched, wrote and illustrated a two-page spread of the major events in the history of rockets and spacecraft. It was made for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. I drew all of the rockets in scale to each other. I found it amazing how many countries have created space agencies within the past 10 years and how many private companies have come into being for the launching of rockets and spacecraft.
Outside of work, how have you been filling your lockdown time?
I get to have lunch with my wife pretty much every day, which I did not get to do before the pandemic. I also get to spend much more time with our dogs, work on house projects and work on the stack of books I have been meaning to read for the past couple of years. We’ve also been listening to the sunset “balcony concerts” streamed live on Facebook by Seattle musician Seumas Gagne.
You can find previous Behind the Byline interviews and other peeks behind the scenes on our Inside the Times page. Want to learn more about your favorite Seattle Times journalist? Send a message to assistant managing editor Danny Gawlowski.