Skip to content

Can learning to draw improve your journalism? Reuters journalists are trying it out

Aprender a dibujar, Learning to draw
Once a month, a group of 10 to 15 journalists meets at the Reuters offices in New York

Learning to draw

They’re not working

They’re not tweeting

They’re drawing

Aprender a dibujar
Andrea Piacquadio at Pexels

The classes started last July, and are taught by a journalist-turned-artist-who loves animal drawings-who knows you think you can’t draw. She wants to prove you wrong

Leah Kohlenberg worked for 10 years as a journalist, including a stint at Time magazine in Hong Kong. When she returned to the United States after teaching journalism abroad, Kohlenberg turned to freelance work and tried her hand at painting

Since then, he has been making and teaching art for a living. In recent years, he started thinking about teaching drawing to people in his former profession. Journalists spend a lot of time on analysis and logic. Drawing requires different mental muscles, he said, and offers a place to focus on a single task

“By doing this kind of problem solving, you’re training your brain,” Kohlenberg said

And it’s exactly the kind of mental stretching she believed journalists needed. Kohlenberg tested her theory with her first boss, Janet Roberts, now a data editor at Thomson Reuters

Before her first class, Roberts said, she couldn’t draw a stick figure. But afterward

“I was just totally hooked from the beginning,” she said. “I couldn’t believe what I was able to draw.”

She started taking classes weekly, and began thinking about how other journalists could benefit from becoming visual thinkers. So last July, Roberts organized an introductory class at Reuters, attended by about 20 people. And they’ve kept it up ever since. The journalists pay for their own classes, and Roberts takes care of the supplies

They drew in pencil, charcoal, ink and, most recently, with a live model. Anecdotally, Roberts has seen reporters move through writer’s block and apply drawing concepts to creating complicated stories

“Personally, I’ve found that visual assignments are easier now,” he said. “I see light, shadow and shapes, which were not obvious to me before.”

Since starting classes at Reuters, Kohlenberg has taught at the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Portland Business Journal, and is in talks with five other newsrooms. He also taught two classes at the University of Nevada, Reno

“I saw several of the students who had been struggling a bit to organize their thoughts around issues that were new to them,” said Bob Felten, associate professor of communication at the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. “They seemed to be able to do a little better after going through these exercises.”

All three would like to see some concrete studies exploring the impact drawing has on other tasks. But even without them, the practice pays off, Roberts said

“It’s a very stressful profession, and it’s the only thing I’ve found in my life where when I sit down and draw or paint, my mind completely shuts off, and I’m in the moment doing it,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t do anything else for you, it’s definitely valuable.”

Kohlenberg recently offered another introductory drawing class at Reuters for people who didn’t start last summer. And last month, a few New York Times journalists came to a class, Roberts said. Next month, a professor from City University of New York plans to attend

When they start, most people don’t think they know how to draw

“That’s the kneejerk response of every journalist,” Roberts said. “With proper instruction, you can actually learn how to do it.”

Open chat
Need help?
Can we help you?