Len De Groot is the director of data visualization for the Los Angeles Times, overseeing the development of graphics and data presentations for digital platforms and in print. A California native, he joined The Times in 2013 after teaching at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and nearly 20 years of producing and directing graphics for digital, television and print products.
Recently Len has helped The Times take a virtual reality tour of the Gale Crater on the planet Mars, create a simulator showing what happens to your money when you spend $100 trying to win a $1.5 billion Powerball lottery jackpot and explain to readers why leap years are actually pretty important.
What does your role as Director of Data Visualization at the Los Angeles Times entail, and how is it different from being an instructor at Berkeley?
I manage a team of about 10 journalists with a broad range of skills, including illustration, programming, data visualization, 3D, motion graphics and video. The main difference is that the people on my team are more experienced than I worked with at the Berkeley J-School. They are a creative, collaborative group.
Why did you decide to go back into newspapers after teaching?
The time was right. The L.A. Times came calling after my funding had run out at Berkeley. I could have kept working there but I was also looking for more of a challenge.
What gets you excited about your work these days?
My team. They are a bright, creative bunch. They consistently propose interesting solutions to challenging graphics. And I have a lot of freedom to experiment.
Is there anything in particular that your team at the Times is focusing on these days?
We’re really trying to bring each project into sharper focus. Powerball and Leap Year are good examples of this — a single idea illustrated as clearly as we can manage.
You’ve spoken at SND workshops in the past. How do you go about crafting a presentation for this audience?
I like to show a balance of things that do and don’t work. I think we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes and I like to examine both.
What do you have planned for your presentation at SNDSF?
I’m going to look at several VR infographic projects and break down what worked and what didn’t. And use that as a way to talk about how data visualization could work in the medium.