2022 Creative Visionaries

Bringing publications to life with graphics, photos, audio and video


In the inaugural class of E&P’s Creative Visionaries,” we salute our industry’s creative directors, graphic artists and multimedia designers. Whether designing a grocery ad, creating a layout for a multi-page publication or developing interactive graphics, our creative colleagues bring storytelling to life — curating captivating images, informative graphics, copy and, increasingly, video and audio. Their talents for communicating the news in visually intriguing ways helps our readers better understand and fully experience our stories. They don’t often receive the byline or recognition, but today we celebrate these often-unsung colleagues who support us daily.

Editor’s note: Much of the visual data was difficult to depict in print due to its interactive nature. We encourage you to visit the Visionaries’ websites to better experience their visually compelling work.

Alvin Chang

Alvin Chang

Independent data journalist and assistant professor of journalism and design at The New School; and, until recently, head of visuals and data at The Guardian US.

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

My first job was at ESPN in 2009, writing data-driven stories about the NHL draft. Much of my data exploration was with visualizations, but never for publication. While I worked there, I attended NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, a graduate school exploring art and technology. That’s when I really started thinking about visual and nontraditional storytelling. For example, I collaborated on an installation called “Soliloquy.” We blindfolded the user, put headphones on their ears and sat them on a stool in the middle of a bunch of fans. When the user would lean in any direction, the fans and the audio would give them the sensation of flying through a nonvisual space. Eventually, they would discover the story.

Those experiences really shaped who I am as a journalist. When I got my first job as a data and visual journalist at The Boston Globe, I thought about the best way to tell each story with the resources at hand — in that case, pixels, sound waves and phone sensors.

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

I love telling stories that help my readers discover something new — about themselves or the world around them. I often find these discoveries aren’t just about the story but also about how it is told. That’s why I love reporting on a story, understanding the systems at play and then thinking about how the form and structure can amplify the content.

It’s incredibly exciting to tell a story that helps a reader look at our world in a different light.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

It’s okay to be bad at something, because otherwise, you'll never get good at it.

I constantly have to remind myself of this. For example, right now I’m taking on a project that scares me, because I’m having to learn a bunch of things while working on it. But I’m trying not to let that stop me. I know it’s an opportunity to learn — and if I like it, I can keep going and eventually get good at it. I find the process of learning while exploring so rewarding. I end up encountering so many new ideas, skills and people. But it requires that first step of overcoming the fear of being bad at something.

For more experienced people, particularly managers, a corollary to this is — support people who try something new. Give them the space to learn, give them grace when they stumble, and be proud as they grow.

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

Growing up in Kansas, I’d thumb through big national publications at the grocery store, thinking, “I don’t know the world these stories are describing.” I eventually learned about that world, but I recognize that I’m perpetuating that cycle.

The media industry has become top-heavy. The large national newsrooms are so disproportionately resourced that they’re able to poach most of these folks away from local or niche newsrooms. In addition, these large newsrooms tend to serve a predominantly college-educated, upper-middle class, coastal and white audience. So that’s who gets their world reflected in these impressive, highly produced stories. That’s often who we try to impress.

Journalists will read this as a critique of their work, and that’s fine. But I think it’s important to recognize that we aren’t reaching many of the readers we want to empower with evidence-driven journalism.

Alvin Chang’s work can be seen online:

“All student debt in the US, visualized” on Vox.com

“The climate disaster is here” on The Guardian US site

This image shows “When global temperatures are projected to hit key benchmarks this century.” (Credit: Guardian graphic, provided)

“We can draw school zones to make classrooms less segregated. This is how well your district does” on Vox.com

Demographics in school attendance zones showing the percent of Black or Hispanic students in Omaha, Milwaukee, Houston, East Baton Rouge, Washington D.C., Cincinnati, Atlanta, Salt Lake City and Sacramento.

Charles Grace

Charles Grace at lunch

Lead Designer, Momentum Media, LocalLife Magazine and LocalBiz Magazine

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

15 years or so. Agency work and personal interests prepared me for editorial work and what we do now at LocalLife and LocalBiz magazines.

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

Other designers’ work. Pushing boundaries. I love seeing work that you just know will never “fly.” Most anything printed. I love paper and magazines. I am a big collector of old and new.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

Continue to do the work as you progress. It is way more rewarding to create the work than to traffic it. Don’t think outside the box — just forget about the box. Wear comfortable shoes.

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” — Arthur O’Shaughnessy

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

I think AI will eventually change how we design and use photography. I am really enjoying the dawn of AR, VR and The Multiverse. Modeling, design and even advertising are now and will be a big part of that evolution.

Pet issue Zoom background

LocalLife DIY Zoom background

Bee issue — digitial motion graphics sponsor ad

View Charles Grace’s work online:

LocalLife magazine

LocalBiz magazine

Michael Grant

Michael Grant

CEO & Founder, Get Current Studio

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

Right now, I stand two years shy of two decades as a visual storyteller in journalism. I started at Grambling State University’s student newspaper, The Gramblinite. There, I tried my hand at every single staff role. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I loved working on the visual side of journalism. On campus, I was known for always having a camera ready to shoot. I held it close because I wanted to design pages with strong visuals.

Strangely enough, my studio got its start during the pandemic. As conference programming evaporated, other programs were developed to help sustain local and legacy newsrooms. I was fresh off a Google News Initiative Teaching Fellowship and had developed a number of connections that made it possible to transition to a full-time studio.

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

There are so many interesting challenges to solve. In so many ways, the journalism craft is a vehicle for solving problems. After all, my friends and colleagues in newsrooms around the country are always asking important questions, breaking important news and holding power to account through reporting.

I still get to enjoy participating in editorial production as a partner in the process. Thinking of exciting ways to improve UX, tell a brand story, or even tell a good story easily activates my creativity.

But I also enjoy thinking creatively about other kinds of industry challenges. Whether addressing inefficiencies or introducing newsrooms to different approaches to their work. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to bring rich and diverse talent into small news organizations. I really enjoy the space to think about strategy in creative ways.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

Early in my career, the trajectory for news designers was pretty straightforward and, in many ways, mirrored the path of a reporter. Get your start wherever you land, work your way up to the beat (or desk) of your choice and maybe you'll join the news organization of your dreams.

Today, there are so many fun and different pathways. Honestly, I don’t even know if I’m the right person to ask. But I think there is enormous value in taking a deep interest in our constantly evolving industry. News media is and has been on its toes for some time now. To me, that means there are many less traditional pathways to doing the design work you wish to do.

Another idea that comes to mind is to always be doing. When I made my way to digital design, I had so much fun trying new things all the time. Every project became an opportunity to learn something new. If you’re good at telling the story about the process and what you learned, I think hiring managers will pay attention and take note that you can evolve in their organization.

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

I think it’s tragic that some of the greatest creative, technical and visual talent is concentrated in certain regions of the country, large news organizations, bespoke nonprofit newsrooms and tech companies. When I step into smaller news organizations and see important work being done, I wish my studio or my clients had the resources to bring in elite talent to support production, elevate the quality of journalism and improve its ability to reach their intended (mostly underserved) audience.

Elite journalism — the kind that changes hearts and minds, holds power to account and improves policy and people’s living conditions — the aspiration to deliver quality journalism in the best possible way is always the most critical trend in journalism.

But to me, the next most important trend is not a trend. That is, answering the important question of how we might democratize access to elite and diverse talent in the news industry. The stories are there. Luckily the newsrooms are still there. But the apparatus of accessible industry talent is not.

View Michael Grant’s work:

Defender instagram post

Sacramento Observer

The Community Voice — print cover and home page

Lilli Jennison

Lilli Jennison

Creative Director, Atlanta Jewish Times

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

I started as an intern at Atlanta Jewish Times in 2018 and have been with the company since.

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

Music! When I feel like I need a pump in creativity, I put on some music. Music helps me get out of my head and just be creative.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

Keep learning every day. I constantly look at other magazines, billboards and social media for ideas. I follow some really cool social media accounts that post design hacks and different ways to create things using the creative suite.

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

Be bold and colorful! We just put out our annual guide to Jewish Atlanta and the theme this year was back to business. I took that to visualize as neon signs. The book is full of bright, colorful neon signs.

See Lilli Jennison’s creative work online:

Atlanta Jewish Times

The AJT’s annual “Guide to Jewish Atlanta” had the 2022 theme of “back to business.” Jennison visualized neon signs and filled the guide with bright, colorful neon signs.

This issue of the Atlanta Jewish Times featured “The 5782 Purim Gazette” and information in a colorful, updated spread.

Ashley Kendrick Kennedy

Ashley Kendrick Kennedy

Art Director, Lancaster County Magazine, Engle Printing & Publishing Co., Inc.

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

My creative career began with my BFA from Tyler School of Art at Temple University, where I majored in graphic design. However, my creative endeavors started as soon as I could hold a pencil. I've been a student of art of all kinds, filling countless journals and sketchbooks for as long as I can remember.

After receiving my BFA in 2012, I bounced around a bit and did freelance design work, including bakery and illustration gigs.

I began working for EPC (Engle Printing and Publishing) just after moving (with my then boyfriend, now husband) from my hometown of Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2014. I started designing advertisements for our weekly community papers and other specialty publications. Then I worked my way up to art direction and design for LCM (Lancaster County Magazine). I’ve been LCM’s art director/lead graphic designer for four lovely years.

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

Music, art, nature and my incredible team! My day almost always begins with music. I’m a bit of a novice audiophile and spend a lot of my free time curating playlists to suit different moods and seasons. Having a soundtrack keeps me moving throughout the day.

I also try to stay immersed in the goings-on of the art community beyond just graphic design and print.

Spending a little time outdoors goes a long way to shake off the cobwebs and allows me to look at things with fresh eyes when I get back to the desk, as well.

And most importantly, it’s such a privilege to work with my inspiring team. From fresh and interesting editorial ideas to the dynamic and stunning moments captured by our photographers, my team never ceases to keep me creatively energized.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

Stay curious, be bold and persist. I picked up the term “life-long learner” from my husband, Sean, an educator to the core. Curiosity is what keeps us learning. It’s easy to fall into complacency in any industry, but by staying curious, we can keep pushing boundaries and explore new ways of communicating visually as creatives.

It’s all a balancing act. Being life-long learners, tirelessly pushing the envelope, studying the rules of design so we can be sure to break them properly, all while staying flexible and amenable to critique, all requires boldness and persistence.

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

The most important facet of visual journalism/creative media to me is communication and connection through storytelling. As a designer and art director, I feel like I’m the middleman between the writers, designers, photographers and the reader. It’s my responsibility to do my best to communicate each story in a visually impactful way that helps to foster meaningful connections between the content and the individual reader or viewer. It’s those sparks of connection that make it all worthwhile.

You can view Ashley Kendrick Kennedy’s work online:

Lancaster County Magazine

Lancaster County Magazine’s covers are visually colorful and stimulating.

The “Wellness in a Bottle” spread creatively purports the advantages of juicing.

”A Winter’s Sojourn to Vietnam” warms the eyes with chicken pho.

”In the Pink” features a kitchen design spread in soft hues of pink.

Becky Lee

Becky Lee, sitting in a mess of publications with her big wrench. That wrench usually hangs on the wall in her office, just in case.

Design Manager, Hagadone Media & Creative

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

1978 is the year I signed up for this shindig. I was 17, a few months shy of graduating from high school in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. My high school Distributive Education Clubs of America teacher Terry Herr reminded me that I needed a job to get a credit in his class and graduate. When I applied for a part-time, minimum-wage position at the local newspaper, the ad director said I was a natural after a simple instruction to make an ad on a graph sheet of paper. I didn’t know anything. I got the job. That was 44 years ago. We didn’t have computers. We had a pica pole, pencils, wax machines, clip art and a proportional wheel scale. 

I was instantly fascinated with the whole industry. I started asking other employees in all departments, “What do YOU  do? Can you show me how you do it? Why are you doing this? Did you go to college? What is that button for? Why is there a dial there? What is a pica, and why do I need a pole to measure it?” 

I began to understand the immense responsibility the hometown newspaper had to provide news and information to our community, how many people it took to complete this task of gathering news and information every day and my role in that responsibility. 

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

A “hidden things” poster of some of Lee’s earlier CoeurVoice publications

My design employees are so damn talented and such a great, diverse mix of all ages and talents. They teach me something new daily. Hagadone Media & Creative (HMAC) employs about 10 graphic designers producing on average 300 pieces of design from the Hagadone Corporation’s communication division’s 13 weekly and daily newspapers across four states: Washington, Idaho, Montana and Hawaii. Anything our organization’s 60+ salespeople sell, my team designs. We have a steady and profound amount of design work driven by salespeople and their customers in a time-sensitive, deadline-driven environment.

Now I mostly manage, encourage and teach our designers how to gracefully maneuver through this complicated process with multiple databases and many software programs. When I do take on a hands-on project myself, like CoeurVoice, once a week, it’s a fun treat, and I cherish that time. CoeurVoice is a TMC product addition to the Coeur d’Alene Press, telling stories and sharing unique content for readers of all ages. The Coeur d’Alene Press prints about 16,000 of these six- to eight-page publications each week for insertion into the Saturday newspaper for subscribers, stuffing with advertising inserts and direct mailing to non-subscribers in the county. It’s so dang much fun doing the page layout design for these stories. Most columns are by local writers and enjoyed by the community.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

This was one of the first CoeurVoice publications. Maureen Dolan, who nominated Lee for Creative Visionaries, wrote the story about picking fruit in the orchard and listening to Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.”

I learned long ago that what people think of me is none of my business, so don’t take everything personally. If someone doesn’t like your design work, don’t take it personally. There are many more who will love it and appreciate it.

Knowing the big picture of how all the news and information reaches people is important. Advertising design isn't about what YOU want to do. It’s a mix of who is paying for what, how much time you have to do it and who and how many people see it. It’s also about a paycheck so do the very best you can, with what you have to work with, in the time you have to do it. Do not waste your employer’s money. Time and money are precious commodities. Do not take them from others; earn them yourself. It’s the most rewarding feeling in the world!         

Work hard and tap into your inner creative soul; use the gift God gave you. Practice reading someone’s mind, listen to their emotions, ask them what they are passionate about and listen carefully. Be willing to compromise your vision for a design to create something beautiful and wonderful for them that they  will love and admire! 

James O’Brien

James O’Brien

Head of Design, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP)

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

My first role in media was 14 years ago with a U.K. B2B digital publisher, starting as a junior designer and working my way up to the head of creative. I worked with multiple publications with a combined reach of over a million people a month, allowing me to work in different mediums, demographics and with a huge range of clients. This job gave me a great springboard into media and a good overview of the different paths that I could take. I got involved in as much as possible, even things I had little or no experience with, but this helped me learn the creative craft. It also taught me how to deal with many different people, personalities and situations — including handling feedback!

During this time, I also took any freelance job that came my way — from web design to UX and print to video. This work led me to my next role as the head of creative for a technology start-up, where I did everything from web design to 3D animation and videos to photography … even pitching to members of the British royal family and meeting Jeff Bezos!

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

I’m most motivated and inspired when working on projects that can have a lasting positive effect on the world. In my previous role, I traveled around the world and saw the impact of our work and how the company’s technology affected low-income people living in rural areas. And at OCCRP, I’ve worked on global, multi-publication, collaborative investigations exposing organized crime and grand corruption — projects that have had tangible worldwide results. Knowing that the work I’m doing is creating positive change keeps me energized and passionate.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

There’s no single path but being multidisciplinary is a huge asset, especially in organizations that have smaller design teams. Being an “all-arounder” is incredibly useful, allowing you to take on really varied jobs and explore what you enjoy. Try and dabble in different mediums and use various tools. If you can’t do this in your current role, do things for fun — work on passion projects, create fun videos, build pointless websites, design silly posters for friends … learn as you play!

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

Collaborating with people with different backgrounds and skill sets often leads to innovative, ground-breaking work. Design shouldn’t be the final step in a project but instead included, considered and explored from the start. You’re seeing this a lot more at large publications — design isn’t just being tacked on at the end but mainstreamed from the beginning, and it shows. The outcomes are amazing. Intertwining design creatives (and, of course, great web and dev teams) with journalists can create exceptional visual journalism and increase the reach and accessibility of the work.

View James O’Brien’s work online:

“The Banality of Brutality: 33 days under siege in Block 17, Bucha, Ukraine”

“The Banality of Brutality” chronicles 33 days under (Russian) siege in Block 17, Bucha, Ukraine.

“Russian Asset Tracker”

“Russian Asset Tracker: Explore the global assets of Russia’s oligarchs and enablers.”

“Suisse Secrets”

“Suisse Secrets: Historic Leak of Swiss Banking Records Reveals Unsavory Clients” and more.

Aldo Pinto

Aldo Pinto at work at Milton Times

Production Manager, the Milton Times, Milton, MA

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

I have been working as a graphic designer since 1992, but my passion for illustration and design began when I was about 10 years old. As a child, I would attend soccer games in my hometown and create reports of the matches using my grandfather’s old typewriter. After typing out these reports, I would carefully staple the papers back-to-back and add my very own hand-drawn illustrations of the game to construct a makeshift newspaper. I issued copies of my masterpiece to my closest friends but only distributed three issues until my typewriter broke down. Although I was heartbroken by this loss, it sparked my lifelong passion for graphic design.   

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

I find my creative juices flow when taking my morning walk with my wife or tending to my garden. Both of these activities energize me, especially during the spring and summer seasons when the sun is shining on my face. I always feel refreshed afterward, making me happy and contributing to my creativity.

I also feel engaged and ready to create after the weekly staff meetings on GoogleMeet with my colleagues.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

I have a few pieces of advice for young professionals who want to be a part of this industry. First and foremost, you must be passionate about what you do because it will be much easier to overcome any challenges you may face if you genuinely love what you do. In addition, you must always welcome constructive criticism because it will only help you become better at your craft. Lastly, I believe communication is key, so it is always important to listen to your clients’ needs.

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

For me, it’s back to basics. Have a page tell a story with graphics, not just words.

View Aldo Pinto’s work online:

Milton Times

Brandi Lynn Rollo

Brandi Lynn Rollo

Graphic Designer, The Plaquemines Gazette and The St. Bernard Voice

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

I am a self-taught graphic designer. Before working at the newspapers, I never thought I would work in this industry. I went to beauty school, got my cosmetology license and worked in a salon for two years. I wasn’t patient enough to build my clientele, so I started job seeking and saw a help-wanted ad in our local newspaper. I started at the newspapers in 2009 as an office assistant and public notice clerk. I started helping design advertisements and then designing newspaper pages. I then became the lead designer, and over the last 10 years, I’ve won many awards in the Louisiana Press Association’s newspaper competitions.

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself. Working on our two weekly newspapers and taking on too many side projects (for an extra income) at once holds back my creativity. When I feel burned out, I like to take time to myself and just turn everything off for a couple of days and then return to it. I can’t do that much with the newspapers because we’re always on weekly deadlines. When my creative block happens, especially with my newspaper jobs, I seek out inspiring content on the internet. Google is my usual go-to. Sometimes it just takes seeing an image or watching a video to inspire me.

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

My advice for young professionals who aspire to rise in this industry no matter the position: Always push yourself, be willing to learn, be dependable, be confident and love what you do. I got where I am today in my position because my bosses believed in me. I know I have something of value that they wouldn’t have without me. I give my job my all.

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

I think today’s visual journalism is about basic skills with multiple missions. We have all heard the expression “a picture is worth 1,000 words.” When the opportunity presents itself, I try to use images or graphics for our news stories. With good storytelling from the reporter in their article, it's easier for the reader to understand a message if it's shown visually.

Using social media is also important. I believe social media helps to keep our newspapers alive in some way. We often tease what's happening in each week's editions on Facebook with photos, screenshots of our newspaper pages, or simply posts with emojis to grab the user's attention. Someone who is active on Facebook and doesn't usually get the newspaper sees what we tease — whether it’s a pressing issue with our parish government that interests them or their grandchild was pictured on our school news page. They will most likely buy a copy or two or call in to purchase a yearly subscription just by seeing that one Facebook post. Readers purchasing extra copies or subscriptions regularly increases our circulation and helps our newspapers survive, which keeps me having a job I love.

View Brandi Lynn Rollo’s work online:

The Plaquemines Gazette

The Plaquemines Gazette

The St. Bernard Voice

The St. Bernard Voice

Amanda Waltz

Amanda shares her secrets with Garth the Giraffe, the office mascot.

Art Director, AIM Media Indiana

How long have you been in creative/visual journalism, and how did you get your start?

I have worked in local media since March of 2005 when I was pretty much right out of college. I was heavily involved in student publications in both high school and college. I started professionally at one of our papers as a graphic designer within a year of graduating. I gained design experience for a few years and then moved into magazine layout with our special publications team. From there, I was promoted to my current position, managing not only our talented, award-winning team of advertising graphic artists but the amazing editors and designers in our publications division.

What gets (and keeps) your creative juices flowing?

I think the deadlines that come with working in the newspaper industry can be both a point of stress and inspiration. I’ve always felt that I do my best work when I don’t overthink the creative process and trust my first instinct. We are often moving quickly to meet press times, which lends to my process. If I have the time to overthink my work, I will, which might mean talking myself out of something that's excellent creative work. I also thrive off of my co-workers. Seeing and helping them with the work they produce inspires me to keep the unit strong and take our whole team to new heights. 

What advice do you have for young professionals starting out in the creative field?

Have fun and be versatile. I believe that loving what you do relies on your raw enjoyment of it, but you’ve got to also be willing and able to take on challenges, even if you’re not comfortable with the idea of it. I remember several projects over my career so far that terrified me on the surface. “Can I really do that? What if it looks terrible? What if I’m not good enough?” Wash those thoughts down the drain and give it a try. You will surprise yourself with what you can actually do when properly motivated. A great moment as a mentor/manager is seeing the pride someone has when they see the final project and can hold it in their hands.

What do you see as the most important trend or facet of visual journalism/media creative today?

I feel that adaptation is essential. As an industry, we’ve got to be able to create new ways to connect with the audience, both readers and advertisers. Coming up with creative new ways to relay information keeps us interesting in a world where everyone is being bombarded with other ways to view their media. Even if I think my ideas might be silly or far-fetched, I try to at least bring them to the table so that it might be possible to adapt the idea into something tangible

Amanda Waltz’s work:

Save the date for the Daily Journal’s Bridal Show

“It’s cold; Be bold” fashion spread.

“Unstoppable: (New Palestine) Dragons’ laser-like focus leads to a state title.”

Robin Blinder is E&P's associate publisher and vice president of content. She has been with E&P for three years. She can be reached at robin@editorandpublisher.com.


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