Amid flooding, chaos, and devastation, Ball State alumnus Dan Swenson, ’95, and his coworkers at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans worked around the clock during August 2005, cranking out news stories, photos, and Swenson’s specialty—graphics—during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
“I created several visuals and other components,” says Swenson, who is now graphics editor. “Countless maps of the New Orleans metro area depicting flood water levels, diagrams showing how levees failed, and charts on recovery.”
Although they were concerned about their well-being, staffers were dedicated to keeping not only New Orleans residents informed, but people all across the world who craved any information they could get about the disastrous storm and the nightmare that followed.
In 2006, a small rainbow after the storm appeared for the news staff—their work earned them two Pulitzer Prizes in the breaking news and public service categories. Not bad for Swenson, who says at one point he didn’t know there was a proper name for his talent.
“I have been ‘creating’ presentations all my life,” he says. “I used to make maps of my neighborhood with labels for forts and caves, so I have been creating journalistic graphics long before I knew what to call them.”
A journalism major with specialization in graphics and design
and minor in fine arts drawing and graphic arts technology, his career in graphics started as a cartoonist and general artist for his high school paper.
While at Ball State, the former Daily News
graphics editor says an advertising teacher encouraged him to look it what was then the new journalism graphics sequence.
“Part of the allure when entering the journalism program was the fact that I knew my career would consist of constantly changing stories,” he says. “As stressful as it can be, it is different every day. One day, we’re getting scared by a hurricane, but at the same time, we’re getting an adrenaline rush from it.”
The award-winning journalist says the Pulitzer as well as other awards he’s earned wouldn’t have been possible without the training he received from Ball State and Michael Price, a former professor.
“He taught me things about newspapers and design that I don’t think I would have received from anyone else,” Swenson says. “I found that I knew just as much about the software and workings of newspaper before even getting a job. I was able to crank out quality work at the same level—and then some—as the seasoned veterans already on staff. That’s a credit to Ball State.”