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March 31 2013

17:49

10 examples of bespoke article design and scrolling goodness

Have you been noticing all the pretty sliding/scrolling articles that are popping up around the Internetz? My students think they’re wonderful, and so do I. So let’s look at a roundup of some great ones.

Screenshot: Snow Fall

Of course we’ll begin with Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. This New York Times multimedia feature had the world journalism community talking and tweeting like crazy as soon as it appeared online. This blog post – More than 3.5 million page views for New York Times’ “Snow Fall” feature – reproduces an internal New York Times memo about how popular the multimedia feature turned out to be. In this post at Source (a project concerning journalism code) – How We Made Snow Fall: A Q&A with the New York Times team – the graphics director, graphics editor, video journalist, and deputy director for digital design who created this feature explain how they did it.

Screenshot: America: Elect!

America: Elect! (from The Guardian) is not only a fun, slidy mini-graphic novel – it’s also the subject of a short but very helpful how-to article: How we built our “America: Elect!” graphic novel interactive, by interactive developer Julian Burgess. Parallax scrolling libraryskrollr (check this one out).

Screenshot: Dock Ellis 1 of 2

Screenshot: Dock Ellis 2 of 2

ESPN was ahead of the pack with The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis, a lavishly illustrated story about the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher. Plugincurtain.js.

Screenshot from Pitchfork 1

Screenshot from Pitchfork 2

Pitchfork magazine used the technique as a showcase for photography, featuring Bat for Lashes singer Natasha Khan, in a cover story titled Glitter in the Dark.

Screenshot: Lost and Found

Lost and Found, an NPR story about photographer Charles W. Cushman, has a beautiful horizontal scrolling audio story in the middle of the page. Look for the Play button below the heading “The Year Is 1938.” Frameworkpopcorn.js.

Screenshot: Fracking

Screenshot: Every Last Drop

The Guardian‘s Burgess linked to a scrolling graphic story about fracking — What goes in and out of hydraulic fracturing (it appears that designer Linda Dong rolled her own scrolling code for this one) — which reminded me a little of Every Last Drop, which uses scrolling graphics to tell the story of how much water we waste every day (parallax scrolling libraryskrollr). I found the fracking story to be more journalistic, especially given the sources listed at the end.

Screenshot: Cycling's Road Forward

Another long-form narrative dressed up very nicely with this technique: Cycling’s Road Forward, from The Washington Post. Framework: Bootstrap. Tools include Modernizr.

Screenshot: Unfit for Work

Unfit for Work (from Planet Money, a program that runs on NPR) has a beautiful responsive article design. I love the big data graphics embedded throughout the article. I’ve been all over the code looking for the bit that slides the sections up and down, but all I can find is very clean CSS and HTML, great attention to responsiveness, and assorted JavaScript files that don’t reference the section element, the H3, or the wallpaper class. I’m super-impressed by the code, because it looks like it can be replicated for other articles. In other words, this design is repeatable.

Screenshot: Too Young to Wed

Too Young to Wed (from the United Nations Population Fund) is a little harder to navigate than the others, in my opinion (it interrupts the vertical scroll with horizontal-scrolling slideshows), but the gorgeous photography and heartbreaking story make it well worth a look. jQuery plugin: ScrollTo.

There are many tutorials for parallax scrolling — here’s one.

Related: The future of the feature: Breaking out of templates to build customized reading experiences, by Kevin Nguyen, November 2012

Do you have other examples to recommend? Please share links in the comments!

17:49

10 examples of bespoke article design and scrolling goodness

Have you been noticing all the pretty sliding/scrolling articles that are popping up around the Internetz? My students think they’re wonderful, and so do I. So let’s look at a roundup of some great ones.

Screenshot: Snow Fall

Of course we’ll begin with Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. This New York Times multimedia feature had the world journalism community talking and tweeting like crazy as soon as it appeared online. This blog post – More than 3.5 million page views for New York Times’ “Snow Fall” feature – reproduces an internal New York Times memo about how popular the multimedia feature turned out to be. In this post at Source (a project concerning journalism code) – How We Made Snow Fall: A Q&A with the New York Times team – the graphics director, graphics editor, video journalist, and deputy director for digital design who created this feature explain how they did it.

Screenshot: America: Elect!

America: Elect! (from The Guardian) is not only a fun, slidy mini-graphic novel – it’s also the subject of a short but very helpful how-to article: How we built our “America: Elect!” graphic novel interactive, by interactive developer Julian Burgess. Parallax scrolling libraryskrollr (check this one out).

Screenshot: Dock Ellis 1 of 2

Screenshot: Dock Ellis 2 of 2

ESPN was ahead of the pack with The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis, a lavishly illustrated story about the Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher. Plugincurtain.js.

Screenshot from Pitchfork 1

Screenshot from Pitchfork 2

Pitchfork magazine used the technique as a showcase for photography, featuring Bat for Lashes singer Natasha Khan, in a cover story titled Glitter in the Dark.

Screenshot: Lost and Found

Lost and Found, an NPR story about photographer Charles W. Cushman, has a beautiful horizontal scrolling audio story in the middle of the page. Look for the Play button below the heading “The Year Is 1938.” Frameworkpopcorn.js.

Screenshot: Fracking

Screenshot: Every Last Drop

The Guardian‘s Burgess linked to a scrolling graphic story about fracking — What goes in and out of hydraulic fracturing (it appears that designer Linda Dong rolled her own scrolling code for this one) — which reminded me a little of Every Last Drop, which uses scrolling graphics to tell the story of how much water we waste every day (parallax scrolling libraryskrollr). I found the fracking story to be more journalistic, especially given the sources listed at the end.

Screenshot: Cycling's Road Forward

Another long-form narrative dressed up very nicely with this technique: Cycling’s Road Forward, from The Washington Post. Framework: Bootstrap. Tools include Modernizr.

Screenshot: Unfit for Work

Unfit for Work (from Planet Money, a program that runs on NPR) has a beautiful responsive article design. I love the big data graphics embedded throughout the article. I’ve been all over the code looking for the bit that slides the sections up and down, but all I can find is very clean CSS and HTML, great attention to responsiveness, and assorted JavaScript files that don’t reference the section element, the H3, or the wallpaper class. I’m super-impressed by the code, because it looks like it can be replicated for other articles. In other words, this design is repeatable.

Screenshot: Too Young to Wed

Too Young to Wed (from the United Nations Population Fund) is a little harder to navigate than the others, in my opinion (it interrupts the vertical scroll with horizontal-scrolling slideshows), but the gorgeous photography and heartbreaking story make it well worth a look. jQuery plugin: ScrollTo.

There are many tutorials for parallax scrolling — here’s one.

Related: The future of the feature: Breaking out of templates to build customized reading experiences, by Kevin Nguyen, November 2012

Do you have other examples to recommend? Please share links in the comments!

February 20 2012

04:54

Resources for learning about social media

I have been collecting posts, articles, tutorials and general how-to materials that relate to how journalists use social media. I started about two weeks ago, as I prepare for a workshop in Singapore.

They are curated here: Social Media and Journalists.

The collection is housed at Scoop.it, a curation site that goes a step beyond social bookmarking sites such as Delicious and Diigo, and which privileges text and tagging — rather than visuals (like Pinterest). For this particular project, I’m finding it very useful.

One example of its utility is that I can offer up a link to a subset of the complete collection by using my own tags: see all posts tagged with “Instagram.” This kind of selection is always useful in teaching and training. Unfortunately, you cannot combine tags (e.g., Instagram + howto) to narrow the search results.

I could have chosen Tumblr for this project, but I’m liking the way Scoop.it works. One of its best features is that when you “scoop” a link using the Scoop.it bookmarklet, the Scoop.it interface opens in a one-third-screen vertical overlay (shown in the first screen capture above). This allows me to scroll up and down in the source material, which makes it easy to write my annotations and choose my tags. I don’t have to flip between browser tabs.

The toolbar shown above appears at the bottom of every posted item. It’s fast and easy to edit your posts and to change or add tags. It’s also easy for others to share your posts on a variety of social networks.

A big drawback is that I can’t download or otherwise preserve my collection. If Scoop.it goes bust, I will lose all my work. There is an RSS feed, but the links go only to the Scoop.it posts; there is no link to the source material in the RSS feed. Bummer.

Scoop.it isn’t brand-new — the site launched in November 2011.

February 10 2012

02:41

Why motion graphics can make for animated explainers

"But little things — like easing in a motion or making an object bounce — can make a difference in how dynamic your animation can be or in how realistic a motion seems. The stylistic devices presented by the authors of the book are not crucial to making your story clear and lucid; your reporting, story and script are. But they can help you polish your work, the way a broad vocabulary and varied sentence structure can keep a reader interested in an article. "

February 05 2012

06:04

Python Web Scraping 101 (Hacks/Hackers)

Python Web Scraping 101 resources, links, etc. How to do it.

February 04 2012

13:20

A Job Is in the Details: 10 Tips on Elevating a Portfolio : Online Journalism

Advice from Serena Carpenter, a very smart professor who teaches at Arizona State. Links to examples of journalism student portfolios.

January 17 2012

10:31
09:29

Ohio quakes raise fracking questions | Al Jazeera Blogs

Video at the bottom of the text story is very well done because it's actually thorough -- well reported -- there's even an animated infographic in the middle of it to explain fracking.
07:17

Gil Scott-Heron: The Last Holiday - audio slideshow | Books | guardian.co.uk

Good example of Soundslides. Very good photo research here - you can see how the producers took great care to match the images to exactly what the narration is talking about. The book being discussed is Gil Scott-Heron's memoir. Historic photos include many of MLK, Stevie Wonder, Jesse Jackson.

April 02 2011

03:38

Timelines in journalism: A closer look

You’re not going to create one every week, but a timeline is a useful — and helpful — type of information graphic, and fairly common in journalism. When teaching students about timelines, here are some ideas to consider and discuss:

Chronology or timeline?

Sometimes a timeline is not a timeline, according to Len de Groot, a longtime graphics journalist. A timeline shows actual spans of time, with proportional measurements for decades, years, days or hours, depending on the total time involved. “The space between events should be as important [as] or more important than the events themselves,” he says. A chronology, on the other hand, shows the momentum of a series of events. It might be more effective if presented as a list, or as an illustrated slideshow.

Here’s an excellent chronology about Operation Odyssey Dawn on Libya, from El País:

Cronología: Operación Amanecer de la Odisea sobre Libia

Not what we think of when we imagine a timeline, is it? But it’s quite well suited to telling the story of recent events in Libya, and it is being updated day by day. (Navigate days via the two arrows at upper left.)

The Wall Street Journal has published a multi-line timeline covering recent events in Arab countries (below). Selecting any day loads a region map and summary of events for that day in an area above the timeline. I like the way this compact layout shows us at a glance where activities have occurred, and when. This is a very successful timeline graphic tailored closely to the story.

WSJ: Middle East Turmoil

Here are some questions we can ask before we sketch our timeline ideas:

  1. Is this a story about hours, days, years or decades?
  2. Should equal periods of time be represented with equal space? (Example: 100 pixels equals one year.)
  3. Are parallel time periods required? (Example: While this was happening in India, this was happening in China.)
  4. Does it make sense to combine the timeline with a map or a line graph?
  5. Should photos or other images be added to the timeline to help tell the story?
  6. How much text is necessary to make the story understandable — and satisfying?

A “timeline” that does not represent time proportionally to space — but which works well, I think, because it is straightforward and clear, is this one by graphic designer Sean Carton:

Sean Carton: Social Media Timeline

Design questions

Most timeline graphics present time in horizontal lines, with the oldest events to the left and more recent ones progressing to the right (I suppose we would do it right-to-left if we were Arab or Chinese). A notable and very recent exception is the Guardian’s brilliant (and vertical) Arab spring: An interactive timeline of Middle East protests (blogged about by Tracy Boyer last week).

Guardian.co.uk: Arab Spring timeline graphic

I think it’s useful to think about Len de Groot’s distinction between timelines and chronologies when admiring this graphic: Is this really a “timeline”? I don’t think so — has there ever been a better illustration of the momentum of events? No need to quibble over the words, though, when the execution is so effective.

Here are some questions we can ask as we examine our sketches of our timeline ideas:

  1. Will people like it?
  2. Is it helpful, easy to understand?
  3. Is it confusing?
  4. Hard to use?
  5. Does it add something that text alone would not convey?
  6. Does the graphic need to be a timeline — or would a regular slideshow (or map, or whatever) be equally effective?

One of the more successful interactive timelines is 10 years old — every time I revisit this package about Winston Churchill, I am amazed all over again at how well it works. Note in particular the double timeline at the bottom: The upper bar is Churchill’s life, and the lower bar shows concurrent world events.

Library of Congress: Churchill and the Great Republic

The Template Trap

Sometimes I think we fall into a “one size fits all” trap with templates or tools. You have a template or a tool, and you re-use it for various stories. But is that always the right decision? Does expediency sometimes defeat the goal of clear communication?

WSJ: Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster

I think the Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster timeline (above) is much more successful than the Biggest Volcanic Eruptions (below), which skimps on details about the eruptions. Both are from The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ: Biggest Volcanic Eruptions

Likewise, CNN’s Trapped Chilean Miners timeline (below) is better suited to its timeline interface than the recent Egyptian Protests timeline, which uses the same interface.

CNN: Trapped Chilean Miners

Timeline tools

TimelineSetter is a new, free tool from the great folks at Pro Publica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization. It’s not available for mass consumption just yet (“We have some more code generalization and fixes we need to do before it’s ready to open source, but we plan to do so as soon as we can,” they said on March 22), but it might be useful in lots of different situations. Below is a timeline created with this tool.

Pro Publica: How One Blast Affected Five Soldiers

The functionality and the design are similar to the timeline template The New York Times has been using for some time; for a recent example, see Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011 (below). I found the checkbox options to be distracting and unnecessary.

New York Times: Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

Other free timeline tools were described (and linked) in a post by Alex Gamela in May 2010. Dipity and SIMILE are fairly well known; others are less so, but it’s worthwhile to check out the different visual approaches to presenting information in this way.

Which of these tools produces the best result for the story you want to tell?

Do not create an interactive timeline just because it’s cool. Use interactivity to make the information more clear.

Two older timelines that are worth a look:

03:38

Timelines in journalism: A closer look

You’re not going to create one every week, but a timeline is a useful — and helpful — type of information graphic, and fairly common in journalism. When teaching students about timelines, here are some ideas to consider and discuss:

Chronology or timeline?

Sometimes a timeline is not a timeline, according to Len de Groot, a longtime graphics journalist. A timeline shows actual spans of time, with proportional measurements for decades, years, days or hours, depending on the total time involved. “The space between events should be as important [as] or more important than the events themselves,” he says. A chronology, on the other hand, shows the momentum of a series of events. It might be more effective if presented as a list, or as an illustrated slideshow.

Here’s an excellent chronology about Operation Odyssey Dawn on Libya, from El País:

Cronología: Operación Amanecer de la Odisea sobre Libia

Not what we think of when we imagine a timeline, is it? But it’s quite well suited to telling the story of recent events in Libya, and it is being updated day by day. (Navigate days via the two arrows at upper left.)

The Wall Street Journal has published a multi-line timeline covering recent events in Arab countries (below). Selecting any day loads a region map and summary of events for that day in an area above the timeline. I like the way this compact layout shows us at a glance where activities have occurred, and when. This is a very successful timeline graphic tailored closely to the story.

WSJ: Middle East Turmoil

Here are some questions we can ask before we sketch our timeline ideas:

  1. Is this a story about hours, days, years or decades?
  2. Should equal periods of time be represented with equal space? (Example: 100 pixels equals one year.)
  3. Are parallel time periods required? (Example: While this was happening in India, this was happening in China.)
  4. Does it make sense to combine the timeline with a map or a line graph?
  5. Should photos or other images be added to the timeline to help tell the story?
  6. How much text is necessary to make the story understandable — and satisfying?

A “timeline” that does not represent time proportionally to space — but which works well, I think, because it is straightforward and clear, is this one by graphic designer Sean Carton:

Sean Carton: Social Media Timeline

Design questions

Most timeline graphics present time in horizontal lines, with the oldest events to the left and more recent ones progressing to the right (I suppose we would do it right-to-left if we were Arab or Chinese). A notable and very recent exception is the Guardian’s brilliant (and vertical) Arab spring: An interactive timeline of Middle East protests (blogged about by Tracy Boyer last week).

Guardian.co.uk: Arab Spring timeline graphic

I think it’s useful to think about Len de Groot’s distinction between timelines and chronologies when admiring this graphic: Is this really a “timeline”? I don’t think so — has there ever been a better illustration of the momentum of events? No need to quibble over the words, though, when the execution is so effective.

Here are some questions we can ask as we examine our sketches of our timeline ideas:

  1. Will people like it?
  2. Is it helpful, easy to understand?
  3. Is it confusing?
  4. Hard to use?
  5. Does it add something that text alone would not convey?
  6. Does the graphic need to be a timeline — or would a regular slideshow (or map, or whatever) be equally effective?

One of the more successful interactive timelines is 10 years old — every time I revisit this package about Winston Churchill, I am amazed all over again at how well it works. Note in particular the double timeline at the bottom: The upper bar is Churchill’s life, and the lower bar shows concurrent world events.

Library of Congress: Churchill and the Great Republic

The Template Trap

Sometimes I think we fall into a “one size fits all” trap with templates or tools. You have a template or a tool, and you re-use it for various stories. But is that always the right decision? Does expediency sometimes defeat the goal of clear communication?

WSJ: Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster

I think the Deepwater Horizon Rig Disaster timeline (above) is much more successful than the Biggest Volcanic Eruptions (below), which skimps on details about the eruptions. Both are from The Wall Street Journal.

WSJ: Biggest Volcanic Eruptions

Likewise, CNN’s Trapped Chilean Miners timeline (below) is better suited to its timeline interface than the recent Egyptian Protests timeline, which uses the same interface.

CNN: Trapped Chilean Miners

Timeline tools

TimelineSetter is a new, free tool from the great folks at Pro Publica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization. It’s not available for mass consumption just yet (“We have some more code generalization and fixes we need to do before it’s ready to open source, but we plan to do so as soon as we can,” they said on March 22), but it might be useful in lots of different situations. Below is a timeline created with this tool.

Pro Publica: How One Blast Affected Five Soldiers

The functionality and the design are similar to the timeline template The New York Times has been using for some time; for a recent example, see Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011 (below). I found the checkbox options to be distracting and unnecessary.

New York Times: Elizabeth Taylor: 1932-2011

Other free timeline tools were described (and linked) in a post by Alex Gamela in May 2010. Dipity and SIMILE are fairly well known; others are less so, but it’s worthwhile to check out the different visual approaches to presenting information in this way.

Which of these tools produces the best result for the story you want to tell?

Do not create an interactive timeline just because it’s cool. Use interactivity to make the information more clear.

Two older timelines that are worth a look:

November 28 2010

17:28

Online video, audiences, sharing: Putting it all together

I thought about titling this post “Another stupid way news sites waste time and effort by failing to understand the Web and how people use it,” but I thought maybe that was far too broad, since it covers so many things.

This post is really about how journalism organizations could use video intelligently:

  1. Embedding
  2. Linking
  3. Sharing
  4. Full screen
  5. Downloads
  6. Engagement
  7. Promote other pages and stories

I spend a lot of time speaking (and thinking) about online video — both journalism video and the broader YouTube varieties. When we think about how people use online video — and by “people” I mean mostly North Americans in the college and university student age group — we absolutely must consider sharing.

How young people find out about videos (and — let’s face it — a large portion of all news and information) is because one or more of their friends posted a link on Facebook, or shared it in some other way that brought it to their attention.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to conclude that it’s very important to make it very easy to share the videos that you produce.

The video embedded above (from the Toronto Star) won an award at this year’s Online News Association annual conference, and I really love the way it tells the story in a manner that can grab the attention of almost anyone — even if you have no particular interest in Africa or in windmills.

Embedding: I had to install an extra plug-in to embed that video here (and on a free WordPress.com blog, I would not be able to embed it). That’s one consideration — if a video is on YouTube or Vimeo, it can be easily embedded almost anywhere, in any kind of blog, and on Facebook. Make it easy for people to embed your video in WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and anywhere.

Linking: From the embedded video above, you can’t view the original. There’s no link. That’s one consideration about linking, and here’s another — the video is like an appetizer to a bigger, more detailed story. That’s often true of online journalism videos, and often there is a fuller treatment in a text story, or even a big package of related features. But how will anyone ever find those other pieces? Even at the Toronto Star’s website, this video does not appear on the same Web page with the text story! (Yes, there is a link. But it’s asking people to click and wait, and that’s not necessary.)

Sharing: These cute little buttons make sharing on Twitter, Facebook, etc., simple — this is essential.

Lots of journalism sites are missing the boat on sharing. Earlier today I watched this video from GlobalPost: On Location: Cairo – Egypt’s pre-election crackdown (excellent work by UF grad Jon Jensen). On the stand-alone video page, it has NO options for embedding and NO options for sharing. (Note: Some GlobalPost stories have been “Liked” more than 1,000 times via Facebook.)

I had to make a screen capture from the video and upload it and link it to provide you the incentive you see above (an image that will take you to the video), and most people just are not going to do that much work to share your videos.

Journalism videos SHOULD be embedded and SHOULD be shared, but they need to LINK BACK to the journalism, to the original. The video is a promo for the rest of the story. The video is a tease, an entry point to MORE. The video should BRING people TO your site.

Does this mean online videos should not include pre-roll advertising? Maybe.

Full screen: From what I’ve seen, young people always make a video full screen if it’s possible to do it. Some videos look great full screen, and many do not. Of course, there are bandwidth constraints, etc. I’m just saying we should consider how the videos look when blown up to a width of 1200 pixels — or larger.

Downloads: If I could download the windmill video and keep it on my iPhone, I would show it to people. Too bad — the Toronto Star does not allow me to download it. If more journalism organizations treated video as (downloadable) podcasts, they might get a lot more leverage out of the video work.

Engagement: The windmill video above has some non-standard enhancements to the storytelling, and I think they work fantastically well to grab and hold the viewer’s attention. Usually I feel uncomfortable about using music in a journalistic video — I’m concerned that it takes away from the journalism, the credibility, the realism. In this case, however, I just love the music because it really does enhance the story. (Too many videos use bland music loops that add nothing.)

Most people are quick to click away from a video if it fails to engage them — 20 percent of viewers will quit a video in the first 10 seconds (source; from analyst firm Visible Measures). To me that says the crucial characteristic of every video is a strong opening. Grab people immediately; guarantee that they are going to see something interesting.

The windmill video is not too long (3 min. 10 sec.). It does not try to tell us everything. That’s why we have the text story.

Video as promo: Increasing page views

Online video is immensely popular, especially with younger Internet users, and its popularity is still increasing. That’s the reason to think about it more, and figure out effective ways to use it to bring good stories to people’s attention.

Consider the two videos linked here: The story about William and the windmills can be bringing viewers to the Toronto Star for years (because it’s not tied to any breaking news), but it ought to be linked better — not only to the Star’s text story but also to other sites and pages (inside the Star and outside) — about NGOs and Africa and Malawi and the 2007 TED Talk that introduced William Kamkwamba to the world and the book and the blog. A video with long legs is worth extra time and effort — in production AND in promotion. (Educators: Show your students the TED video and the Toronto Star video and discuss storytelling!)

The GlobalPost video about current elections, on the other hand, has a short shelf life — nevertheless, it could be linked to a zillion other stories related to Egypt and the region. The BBC has always been my exemplar for this kind of cross-linking (and self-promotion); see this example: Egypt holds parliamentary poll (two insets within the story: Related Stories and Parliamentary Vote). Why doesn’t GlobalPost have links like those on its video page? Why squander that opportunity?

If you’re not familiar with GlobalPost, read this from Nieman Journalism Lab (November 2010).

14:38

Online video, links, and people: Putting it all together

I spend a lot of time speaking (and thinking) about online video — both journalism video and the broader YouTube varieties. When we think about how people use online video — and by “people” I mean mostly North Americans in the college and university student age group — we have to consider sharing.

How young people find out about videos (and — let’s face it — a large portion of all news and information) is because one or more of their friends posted a link on Facebook, or shared it in some other way that brought it to their attention.

It doesn’t take too much intelligence to conclude that it’s very important to make it very easy to share the videos that you produce.

William and the Windmill

Blah blah.

September 27 2010

02:52

Contents of a journalist’s backpack

Neerav Bhatt describes himself as a professional blogger, photographer, geek and qualified librarian. Okay, so he never says “journalist,” but if you read his post that accompanied the photo below, I think you’ll forgive my headline.

He’s got some interesting choices (which he explains in his post) and gives some very practical advice too. I have a similar Asus netbook, and I concur that you can’t beat it for long battery life! The screen resolution is fantastic too.

Thanks to @jayrosen_nyu for linking to Neerav’s post!

September 21 2010

14:12

Teaching Twitter to students

This semester I took a course I have been teaching for 10 years and moved it to a WordPress.com blog. The students and I still meet in person once a week to discuss ideas, but otherwise, everything is on the blog.

Each student was required to start his or her own WordPress.com blog, and all their assignments are submitted as posts on their blogs.

This week’s assignment centered on Twitter, and I’m very happy with the results! My intention was to give the students an experience of using Twitter that would introduce them to new people and new sources of information and show them one of the most significant ways that Twitter is different from Facebook.

If you want to see the students’ reactions and reports about their experience, their blogs are linked in the sidebar of the course blog. Just follow the link to the assignment (above). This week only you can see a link to their Twitter posts (because of the way I set up the RSS feed) — but by Friday those links will start to be replaced by links to their next assignment.

If you’re interested in using WordPress.com in this manner for a course, leave a comment here — I’d be happy to answer any questions!

(Note: This course happens to be for graduate students, and it’s not a skills class, so I’m not teaching them how to be journalists.)

July 28 2010

17:57

Got any good examples or ideas of / for U.S. Census data displays?

I ask this question for two reasons:

  1. It's for a project I'm working on.
  2. I looked through the U.S.A. Today's site, and the NY Times', and didn't find any good examples.

Right now I've got a few ideas for census data display (below), but I'm looking for more.

  • Compare: Takes two or more neighborhoods / zip codes / cities / counties and compares per-capita / absolute values in major + minor census fields.
  • Editor Picks: We publish links to comparisons of note and charts of note here – it’s a way to highlight interesting data points that could get lost in the shuffle otherwise.
  • Graphics Library: The graphics we create in the print edition often get lost in the article they’re associated with. The Graphics Library is an index of the census graphics we’ve created, and link the graphic back to the original article.
  • What’s Your Tract? This feature allows people to type in their address, or click their location on a map of Colorado, and then delivers them their census tract-, city- and county-level census information.
  • Build a Map: This may not be “Build a Map” as much as it is “here are some things you can map, choose one.” The idea is creating by-county heatmaps of various census fields.
  • Where We Rank: A selection of charts comparing Colorado’s per-capita demographics to other states, as well as comparing Colorado county per-capita demographics to other Colorado counties.
  • How We’ve Changed: We’ve got data from the 2000 and the 1990 Censuses available to us. With that data we can tell the story of what’s changed, and at what rate, on a state, county and city level. The rate of change is likely to be the more interesting part of this data set, and that story can be told with heatmaps and charts, organized by demographic and location-type.

April 09 2010

15:37

7 examples of exceptional Flash packages

These come from USA Today, The Washington Post, the ABC (Australia’s public broadcaster), Reuters, NPR, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. Seven examples, seven news organizations. Yes, they are all large news organizations. But I’d like to make the point that (contrary to what some Flash detractors have said) it’s not only The New York Times that is doing outstanding work in Flash online.

I chose these examples to show to journalism students who are near the end of their 10 weeks of instruction in designing and producing multimedia news packages.

Haiti earthquake: An expandable package that was updated with new photos, videos and audio throughout the 10 days following the earthquake. Note the added audio in the lower right corner — not every photo had this, so it was optional to include it. Videos appear seamlessly within the same interface (in the location of the still photo). Each photo has a headline, and that headline text appears at the top when you roll over the squares representing individual segments. A very classy package with a clear design and clean functionality. Exceptional: Highly adaptable to future breaking news or retrospectives. See an earlier version of the same interface: Decade in Review.

Local fashion videos: Outstanding interviews, still photos and editing make these short videos exceptional. The choice of more than a dozen well-known locations around Washington, D.C. (e.g., Eastern Market, Union Station) situates each story in a place that has a recognizable flavor and style. To bundle these first-rate stories in a clean, easy-to-use interface that encourages browsing — and includes a map — was brilliant. Bummer: No way to bookmark or e-mail link to an individual video. Bonus: Easy-to-use link list of all videos. (New ones are still being added.) Overkill: Too-elaborate Flash-based comments segment.

Black Saturday: Coverage of the worst bush fires in the history of Australia, in which 173 people died and more than 4,500 sq. km. of land burned — organized by both time and location in a manner that encourages browsing and also conveys the huge scope of the disaster. Exceptional: Use of embedded anchor points, which allow you to bookmark any segment, or e-mail a direct link to someone (see example). Exceptional: Integration of Google Earth mapping (see example). See also the amazing map locator that appears below the grid.

Economic crisis: A timeline starting with August 2007 and ending with September 2009 documents “The Year of Global Change” with text, photos and videos in an expandable interface that provides easy switching between detail view (individual items) and the overview grid. The detail you viewed last appears in the leftmost column when you return to the grid view. Bonus: Very easy to step forward and back from within the detail view. Bummer: There is no bookmarking (no embedded anchor points).

Piano Jazz: Highlighting 30 hand-picked examples of jazz musicians performing on the radio program Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, this 6 x 5 grid opens up 30 overlay segments that include an audio player, a photo of the artist, and a short text. Although this package might appear complex to the uninitiated, it is actually very straightforward. My students are fully capable of building this package right now, with a combination of XML and sound controls. Notable: Clean, appealing design, ease of use, restraint. I love it that the audio was edited down from the full-length program to feature one song performed by the guest.

Afghanistan map: This map has been updated, often daily, since February 2009. Look at the calendar selector on the left side; select any day to see all reported events on that day. Each event is located on the map with an icon that indicates its type, e.g., bomb, fighting, offensive, air attack. Roll over the icon to read a summary of the event. Exceptional: Use of external data to update (frequently!) a long-term continuing story. Bonus: Great icon design and a very clear legend box.

End of the Line: I’ve chosen this from the many great examples at The New York Times for two reasons. First, it demonstrates a versatile loaded overlay (see screen capture below): Some of the segments include video, most do not, and many include multiple still photos (some include only one photo). The navigation interface at the top of each segment (Previous and Next buttons, plus numbered buttons that indicate exactly how many photos the segment includes) is an exceptionally friendly way to present varied photo sets. Second, the two views of the intro (Map and Thumbnail) add immensely to the appeal of the package. As a former New Yorker, I am drawn in by the Map view, but I would guess that lovers of photography find the Thumbnail view more enticing.

March 14 2010

17:21

Portrait of a great communicator

Yesterday I watched a documentary video I had TiVo’d earlier from the Sundance Channel:

Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight

Unfortunately it’s not yet available on Netflix (?!), even though it was released last May. I recommend that you file the title away so you remember to watch it later. It’s a very good example of documentary storytelling, for one thing. It also portrays Glaser as a lovely human being, sincere and compassionate, not spoiled by his great talent or his fame.

I think this video would be very inspirational for a lot of our journalism design and graphics students, because in it  you can see how Glaser produced commercial work, paid his bills, ran a design studio in New York — and yet did not compromise his principles, did not grow a raging ego, and (deservedly) won a lot of admirers.

Of course, you’ll also get to see a ton of examples of his wonderful graphics and drawings in the video — and maybe, like me, you’ll appreciate for the first time how very broad and deep his oeuvre is.

March 11 2010

03:25

21 examples of Flash journalism

These are interactive news packages I’ve selected to show to journalism students as we discuss some of the capabilities of Adobe Flash. Many are very recent.

1. Motion

The first thing students learn to do in Flash is animation. Although a lot of animation is merely eye candy, it can help to tell the story more effectively.

The motion in Super Stadium (2010) is window dressing, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In this segment, there’s a zoom on each level of the stadium as it flies out. In other segments, we see an alpha fade. These animation effects are easy to do on the Flash Timeline.

In Last Minutes of Flight 3407 (2009), a 3-D plane rotation illustrates what happened in the air. Other animation in this graphic traces the plane’s path on a map; the map then zooms in close to indicate where the plane went down.

An extraordinary feat of reporting: What happened: Death of Jean Charles de Menezes (2007) shows in 25 steps how London police pursued and killed an innocent man. With this level of detail, it’s essential to make sure the motion is fully accurate. The story is enhanced by inset videos taken from closed-circuit cameras throughout the city.

Manufacturing Chocolate from Seed to Sweet (2007) presents a step-by-step explanation of a process, with animations (such as milk pouring from a bottle) that are initiated by the user.

Four years ago, every winter sport was explained in these detailed animated graphics: Turin 2006 Winter Olympic Games. They offer particularly good examples of motion used strategically to explain. Even if you don’t know a word of Spanish, you can learn from watching these.

2. Button symbols

To add interactivity to a Flash graphic or animation, you’ll need to master buttons — and that means dipping into ActionScript. It’s well worth the effort, as I hope these examples will show.

The rollover buttons in Damage in Haiti (2010) cause pop-up panels to appear. It’s possible for relative beginners at Flash to create this kind of typical map effect.

Black Tides: A Timeline (2005?) offers a more complex map interface, but the circles on the world map and on the timeline bar at bottom are buttons. Not shown: A vertical stack of buttons on the left side of the graphic. (Unfortunately, the photos that used to be in this package have now all gone missing.)

The Mekong: A River and a Region Transformed (2010): This beautiful interface, integrated loosely with a map, uses a photo button and a separate text button to open a slideshow; a separate text button takes you to a story page with audio.

In The Debt Trap (2008), a sequence of 10 invisible buttons display information about each year in the selected decade slice — a great data graphic. (To see this segment, select Start, then go to Lifetime/Explore.)

TKTS – A House of Glass (2008) uses the Times’s standard button bar with numerals + NEXT. I think the first time they deployed this button bar was in Small Plane Hits Building in Manhattan (2006).

3. Movie clip symbols

After a student masters simple interactivity with buttons, it’s time to tackle the real power of Flash — and that means movie clips. Movie clips make possible a lot of functionality that can’t be accomplished with basic Timeline animation.

What causes earthquakes? (To see this cutaway diagram, click the second tab at the top.) The moving red arrows and the radiating circles are movie clips.

Slot machine (2009): The rolling sections inside the machine and the light on top are movie clips.

Budget Forecasts, Compared with Reality (2010): The drag slider at the bottom and the rollovers on the fever chart are movie clips.

In Scenes from a Ruined Boulevard (2010), a different kind of slider movie clip (bottom center) drags across a long panorama to show the destruction of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Four pop-up text panels distinguish this design from the typical 360-degree panorama.

Produced for the U.S. Library of Congress in 2001, Churchill and the Great Republic remains one of the great digital information packages (select the “Timeline” option to see this view). The way the timeline bars (lower portion of the screen) work in concert with the main display area is typical of movie clip functionality.

4. Maps and Data

Three of these examples are data-driven maps. Now you’re looking at the hard stuff — the integration of large data sets tied to dynamically generated objects.

Visualizing the U.S. Electric Grid (2009): Both of the maps above come from the same package. Users have a lot of opportunities to explore and view the data that interests them.

Haiti, territorio devastado (2010): This beautiful 3-D map of Haiti allows the user to select various kinds of information to display as overlays. (There’s also an animated cutaway that shows earthquake activity beneath the surface.)

Top: Geography of a Recession (2009) provides data for each county in the United States. Compare that with the map below it — Immigration Explorer (2009) — and you’ll see how much sense it makes to build interactive graphics that use external data sources. Once you’ve got a map like this working the first time, you can swap out the data set and tweak it to serve a wholly different story.

Gay marriage chronology (2009): This map interacts with the timeline below it to show how states have changed their laws to allow or prohibit gay marriages.

Although it’s simpler than the preceding map examples, History of Religion tells a story efficiently and clearly with the help of color and motion, with a minimum of text.

If you have other examples to suggest, I’d be happy to see the links!

February 28 2010

21:02

Spending time with Los Angeles homicides

Have you seen the L.A. Times homicides map? I’m sure you’ve marveled at the New York Times homicides map, and perhaps you have also admired the Boston Globe homicides map. The L.A. map, however, has a lot (a lot!) of fine features that the others lack.

One of my students wrote a critique of the L.A. map for an assignment, and that led me to go deeper into it than I had before. Turns out that it’s probably the best implementation I’ve ever seen of Adrian Holovaty’s 2006 call to action, A fundamental way newspaper sites need to change.

I’m particularly impressed by the article level of the data — the story — for each and every victim of homicide (see here and here and here, for example). Check out The Homicide Report blog too.

(Props to Ken Schwencke, a Gator journalism grad, whose love of data and code is all over this thing.)

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