Articles about "Best Practices"


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What breaking news reveals about your newsroom culture

Here’s what a lifetime in journalism has taught me: Breaking news reveals the true character of a newsroom’s culture and quality.

Spot news success happens in cultures with specific systems, skills, values, mindsets – and leadership.

In the healthiest cultures, when news breaks, here’s what staffers can count on:

  • We have a plan. We don’t have to scramble to figure out how to respond each time a big story breaks. Everyone on our team has an understanding of the key roles that need to be filled – both in the field and at the mother ship. We automatically call in and report for duty. We adapt the basic plan by situation and story, and we’re never caught flat-footed.
  • It doesn’t matter if our boss is on vacation. Deputies and team members are capable of making tough decisions and deploying resources because our leader routinely shares information and power. (No one has to say, “What would the boss do?” We know what WE should do.) We know who’s in charge and we know we’re all responsible.
  • Our hardware and software won’t be our weak link. Our organization invests in the necessary gear and the preventive maintenance to keep it ready for heavy duty use at any time. We have backup provisions for power, technology and tools.
  • Our communication works. Okay, it never works perfectly, but we have phone trees, updated contact lists for email, social media and phone access, bridge lines for conference calls, protocols for briefings, and computer files for shared information and resources as the story continues. We minimize ignorance, confusion and duplication.
  • We’re cross-trained and talent-deep. We’re not in a hole because a key player or craftsperson isn’t available. Even our bench is brilliant — and can step in with confidence and competence. We can cover all the bases.
  • We have an investigative and analytical mindset. We assume that everyone will cover the “what.” We’ll get that — and automatically dig into the “why?,” “what the hell?,” “what’s the bigger picture?,” and “what next?” That’s not the exclusive role of people with “investigative” in their titles; it’s expected of all of us on the team.
  • We play on all possible platforms. We understand that people expect the news to come to them, wherever they are, however they prefer to consume it. We do our best to deliver — with quality.
  • The whole building knows the drill. When breaking news demands all hands on deck, people from other departments (from sales to sports to marketing to maintenance) take the default position: “How can I help?” We gratefully tap their talent and plug them into our plans.
  • We know what we stand for. We know that breaking news is fraught with land mines. We know how to navigate them. Because we talk about values in our everyday coverage, the stress of spot news won’t make us stupid.
  • We take care of each other. Our leaders focus on the needs of the next shift, the next day, the next week. They don’t let staffers run on empty, and don’t hesitate to encourage (even order, if need be) exhausted or traumatized teammates to stand down or accept help.
  • We never forget we’re covering human beings, not statistics; featuring their stories, not our selfies; chasing truth, not thrills. We’re documenting history.

And when the story becomes history, we think about how to do things better next time.

 

 

 

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A speedometer with needle racing to Improvement, past the words problem, planning and process, symbolizing the need to implement change to improve a situation._Depositphotos

Managers, make ‘we can be better’ more than empty words

So today I’m thinking about Casey Stengel and Jesus.

Why? Well, in my life, it’s the time of year for two really important six-week seasons: spring training and Lent.

Both are times devoted to preparation. Both are opportunities for fresh starts. And both give those who take part a chance to make an important change — whether it be their batting stance or their approach to life.

Spring training is the time when major league baseball players gather in the warm climes of Florida and Arizona to prepare for another summer on the diamond. Lent, which Christians observe in preparation for Easter, recalls the 40 days Jesus prayed and fasted in the desert prior to beginning his public life of teaching and good works.

Yes, the two seasons have very different goals: One aims to produce a winning baseball team and the other to transform lives. But both spring training and Lent begin with an important belief: We can be better than we are.

Better players than we are, better people than we are.

It strikes me that in successful organizations, one of the manager’s most important roles involves insisting upon that same belief — reminding everyone that no matter how good we’ve become, “we can be better than we are.”

The best managers, though, go further. Instead of just asking people to work harder or longer, they enable people to improve by doing something, by changing something, by creating an environment in which improvement can occur.

But let’s take this one step at a time. Let’s begin by acknowledging something we all know to be true: We can be better than we are.

Stengel’s way

Casey Stengel, one of the most successful managers in the history of baseball, is responsible for one of my favorite quotes about management:

“The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.”

I’m not sure how many members of the New York Yankees hated Stengel during the 12 years he was their manager. But they sure played well. His Yanks won 10 American League pennants and 7 World Series — an amazing run.

But even with all that success, Stengel apparently never lost sight of the need to get better.

“If we’re going to win the pennant,” Casey once said (in classic Stengalese), “we’ve got to start thinking we’re not as good as we think we are.”

At the time Stengel said this, the Yankees were in the midst of winning an unprecedented five consecutive World Series. Yet he still understood the need to improve — and to convince his players that they could.

Like Stengel, great baseball managers know that in order for “we can be better” to be more than just words, they need to do something, make a change that will require discipline of themselves and their players. It might involve taking extra batting practice, a new dedication to fundamentals, greater willingness to selflessly hit behind runners, learning a new pitch.

But what about newsroom managers? What can you do differently that would help each member of your staff do better work?

Three quick ideas:

  • Inventory your staff’s interests and skills. Too often, what managers know about their staffs is limited to what they now cover or did in the past. What other skills do they have? What are their hobbies? What languages do they speak? What do they read? What music do they listen to? What volunteer work do they do? What organizations do they belong to? What did they study in college? Back at the Inquirer, one of my colleagues, a general assignment reporter,  had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Civil War. Another, who worked in business, knew a lot about explosives. Another Metro reporter had an extensive knowledge of movies. It’s possible that in your midst is an expert in an area that could deepen your coverage — or, just as importantly, enrich your staff’s conversations about stories. Find out who’s working for you — and then put those talents to work on behalf of improving your journalism.
  • Assess your staff’s journalism chops. Before you can get better, you need an honest assessment of your current performance. For maximum impact, assess from the top: Who are your best writers? Your best interviewers? Your best visual journalists? Your best audio editors? Who really understands multimedia storytelling? Now, who needs help in these areas? Armed with this assessment, you can initiate a variety of efforts to improve individual skills, like one-on-one mentoring and staff-wide brown bag lunches. You can help individual desks identify specific craft areas that need improvement (maybe your court reporters need to know more about legal proceedings) and get them together with staffers who have had that experience. If the newsroom completely lacks skill in a certain area, look to the community to help. It’s in their best interest to assist, and maybe all you have to do is ask.
  • Reestablish the value of revision. Not only is a lot of content posted to the Web with only one — or no — edit, the downsizing of our editing staffs has made the idea of revising first drafts an opportunity for nostalgia. “Get it right the first time” might be a formula for success in the efficiency expert’s world, but it rarely leads to excellent journalism. Good storytelling and headline writing has always benefited from revision, and you can reestablish that as a priority. Maybe you don’t have enough staffers to guarantee multiple reads. You do have the option of moving first draft deadlines up 15 minutes to allow for an editor to read through the first draft and send it back for changes. Deadlines involve a system, and systems can be changed to facilitate your priorities. When we create systems that endorse the idea of first-draft journalism, it’s hard for the staff to take us seriously when we say, “we can be better.”

Meaningful changes

As a child being raised Catholic by the nuns in Baltimore, I learned that Lent was a time of prayer and self-denial (I gave up Coca-Cola or candy), intended to help me confront my sinfulness and prepare for the joy of Easter Sunday.

Adults traditionally have observed Lent by fasting between meals and abstaining from meat on certain days. Many go to daily Mass and attend confession more frequently.

Increasingly, though, a conversation is emerging about making Lent a time for making important changes in our lives. Father Dennis O’Donnell, who operates an orphanage in Honduras, says we are being called “to a change of heart — metanoia — more than a change of diet.”

As I think about newsroom leaders who, after years of reducing their capacity, still aspire to meaningfully serve their communities, this idea more of meaningful, substantive change rings true. Yes, the changes we discussed above will require discipline — the kind required of the Lenten observer to abstain from meat.

But meaningful changes — the ones that can transform a newsroom’s aspirations and belief in its capacity to do important work — will require courage, too.

Here are three ideas:

  • Own something. Face it. You can’t cover everything you once did. Heck, you already don’t cover everything you once did. So why not ask this question: What do I cover that helps the people of my community live better lives? What issues do I help them understand sufficiently to actively take part in their self-government? And how could I cover these in a way that no one else can? Whether it’s reform of your community’s schools, the operations of city government or the impact of immigration, your newsroom can own an issue in a way no one else does—and your community will benefit.
  • Take a chance. Everyone talks about the need to take risks, but few actually take any. Encourage staffers to present you with thoughtful, reasoned — but ambitious — ideas and let them go for it. Maybe you have to do one big idea at a time. But in too many newsrooms, the norm has become “if I can’t get it done today, I don’t do it.” We are becoming prisoners of the need to fill the book or get the show on the air. Production is winning over journalism impact and public service. The stories that mean the most to our communities are the ones they can’t get anywhere else. Take a risk. Go for it.
  • Let me try something new. I once worked for a paper where the politics writer covered the Phillies. The tennis writer was assigned to Moscow. The sports editor became city editor. In a time of diminished resources, why not encourage people to explore new subjects? Start by asking your staff what areas they’d like to cover if the opportunity opened up. But don’t forget that many people simply don’t believe they’re capable of certain jobs. Our job as managers is to identify the hidden talents — to see in people potential they don’t even see in themselves. A newsroom where anything is possible is fun to work in. Make yours fun.

We can be better than we are. Read more

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USA vs. CHN Curling

Sochi photo coverage takes ‘patience, planning, logistics’

Harry Walker, photo director at McClatchy-Tribune Information Services, has a unique vantage point overseeing MCT’s visual coverage of the Olympic Games.

Raised in Savannah, Ga., Walker graduated from Morehouse College in 1980. He started his photojournalism career at The Columbus Dispatch, where he worked from 1988 until 1992. Before joining MCT, he worked as features and weekend photo editor at the Kansas City Star. He has served numerous organizations, with stints as a member of the National Association of Black Journalists’ Visual Task Force and as chairperson of the National Press Photographers Association’s Best of Photojournalism contest.

What follows is an edited version of our conversation about MCT’s ongoing Olympics photo coverage:

Me: So, Harry, you are nine hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. How is that an advantage or disadvantage for your MCT photographic reports?

Walker: Having the nine-hour time advantage allows you to cover more events than in the past. For example, a hockey game that starts at 9 p.m. in Sochi can be covered and you can still deliver photos to clients in plenty of time for publication. Each of our photographers covers three events daily, or two events that consume a lot of time.

On the other hand, communication with people at the Washington office and with loved ones has been a challenge. When you are nine hours ahead, it is never a good time to communicate. When I have a free moment before event coverage in Sochi starts, everyone is asleep or the office is closed. When they are functioning on the East Coast, I am on deadline and then ending my day. My average day here at the Olympic Games starts around 10 a.m. and ends around 2:30 a.m.

MCT Director of Photography Harry Walker is overseeing photo coverage at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What has been your highlight so far?

Walker: As a veteran of many Olympics, I am not easily impressed. I did find the Olympic Park on Sochi/Adler to be well-planned. This is the first Winter Olympics I have covered where you can actually walk to all of the venues. There is a transportation system, but when you’re on deadline moving from one event to another, sometimes you can walk to the next venue faster than waiting for a bus. This has proven to be very useful.

Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford perform during the team pairs figure skating short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Thursday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

I have enjoyed shooting ice dancing and figure skating. Many of the photo positions are very good thanks to a wise system of allocating the coveted floor photo positions in the field of play. Tickets are distributed to all of the National Olympic Committees, which ensures each country gets a share of the available photo positions. This eliminated the situation we faced in Vancouver, where the floor positions were available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some people would literally spend the night in line to secure one of the 50 floor photo positions. If you wanted one of them, you had to spend hours waiting in line before the event started, which would also reduce the number of other events you could cover.

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform during the team pairs ice dance short dance program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What has it been like in Sochi? Are the criticisms about Russia’s lack of preparedness accurate? Are the concerns about the hotels and the venue on point, or overblown?

Walker: It depends whom you speak with. I thought I had problems until I heard first-hand about some of the other issues. I myself have a good room, but I do not have any television or reliable Internet. The television I quickly learned to live without, but the Internet is a major problem. For the first few days, I could not see a Wi-Fi signal, and even now it is not dependable. It works for a while, then goes down — sometimes for hours or all night. This forces me to stay at event venues or the Main Press Center later each night to use the Internet. Most of my communications, planning and report reviews require the Internet — and the same goes for any entertainment or news. Try living without television or Internet for a week — it will make you realize how connected you really are and what an important role the Web plays in your life. All of my calls to the U.S. are done via Skype — I need the Web for that to happen.

Austria defenseman Andre Lakos (64) and Canada forward Jonathan Toews (16) crash into the glass while battling for the puck during the second period in a men’s hockey game at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday. Canada defeated Austria 6-0. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

One additional issue is that my cellphone does not work at my housing complex, though it seems to work everywhere else. This makes me even more cut off without the Internet.

I did speak with other photographers who had no light bulbs, doorknobs or in some cases, working electrical outlets. Keep in mind you need electrical outlets to charge batteries for cameras, use laptops, charge phones, etc.

Me: What is working at the Olympics in terms of photographic coverage?

Walker: It has been a very pleasant experience. I have worked mostly in Olympic Park in the city and allowed my two colleagues — Chuck Myers of MCT and Brian Cassella of the Chicago Tribune — to handle the photo events in the mountains.

USA’s Erika Brown, center, delivers a stone as Debbie McCormick, left, and Jessica Schultz prepare to guide the stone during women’s curling competition against China at the Ice Cube Curling Centre during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Wednesday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Only a few photo assignments have been ticketed due to high demand. The remainder have been open to everyone. Most of the time, it is easy to move around the venue for various photo positions. During a photo meeting of all photographers one day before the games started, it was stated that 750 photographers had been credentialed. I challenge this due to the number of empty lockers and the amount of desk space. Two days ago, a member of my staff misplaced his photo credential and needed to get a temporary one. The replacement credential was No. 377 — these credentials are normally issued in sequential order for security and management purposes.

Why is the number of photographers at the Winter Games nowhere near the number that was stated at the meeting? I believe distance and the cost of travel were major influences. Security issues may have deterred many as well.

But overall, it’s been a very positive experience covering the games.

Russia’s Victor An (250), right, and teammate Vladimir Grigorev (252), left, cross the finish for a first and second place finish during the men’s 1,000-meter finals race at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: How many people are working on your team and contributing to your report? How many editors do you have, and how many photographic reporters?

Walker: MCT has a very small team covering the games. This is a result of the economic realities of the newspaper industry. MCT has three photographers and four writers, with no office space in the Main Press Center. This is the third Olympic Games where we have used this model, and it seems to work well for us. Communication is done via planning emails nightly and throughout the day, and text messaging also proves very valuable. MCT photographers are moving in excess of 200 photos daily, and we also have access to coverage from our image partners — the San Jose Mercury News, Colorado Springs Gazette and Minneapolis Star-Tribune. These image partners file images to our Washington, D.C., photo desk for posting to the wire. The three MCT photographers on site, shoot, edit and move photos live on the wire from each venue, ensuring fast and timely delivery of content to subscribers.

Russia’s Yulia Lipnitskaya performs during the team women’s figure skating short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Saturday. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: Is there anything new in terms of photographic technology that has impressed you?

Walker: Not that I am aware of. Many are using a VLAN — a virtual local area network — to transmit photos from cameras for editing at venues or the Main Press Center. But this is common for many high-profile events. The large agencies are using robotic cameras, but not as much as during the Summer Games in London.

 

Me: Has there been any interference from Russian officials or the International Olympic Committee regarding what you can or cannot document?

Walker: I am not aware of the local media situation and cannot comment on it, but I have not had any situations where Russian officials have limited access to what I have available to photograph. I have assigned photos in the towns of Sochi and Adler and heard no reports of access being limited. Working in and around Olympic venues and sites has been as the same as in past Olympics. Security is very high as compared to past games, however.

Me: Given the heavy security restrictions and the threat of terrorism, are you subject to photographic limitations?

Walker: Security personnel record all entry into and out of buses and venues electronically. Thus all movement is tracked. You also have your normal airport-style security checkpoints when you enter the Olympic parks in both the mountain and Sochi Olympic parks.

Security is definitely very tight. There are lots of undercover security personnel about — you can spot them easily at times, though I am sure there are others we don’t notice. For the first time since I have been covering the Olympics, I needed a passport to secure my accreditation. In the past, the Olympic accreditation you received before traveling to the games served as your visa and passport. Going into Russia, you needed your passport every step of the way. You needed it to get your photo armband for floor positions, your hotel room and many other items that seemed surprising since you were already in the Olympic credentialing system.

Me: Have you made any special preparations to cover a terrorist event, should one occur? If so, what are they?

USA’s Emily Scott (155), leads Lithuania’s Agne Sereikaite (140) into a turn during the ladies 500-meter short track race at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Walker: MCT has a plan in the event of an attack. Without going into too much detail, we all have phones that work world-wide, have a designated place to meet and have a request with the State Department for overseas travel should the U.S. put an evacuation plan into effect.

Me: How does this compare to the 2002 Winter Games when you were the assistant photo chief in Salt Lake City?

Walker: Many of the same systems are in place. The ticketing process seems smoother. Individuals and smaller organizations have a better opportunity to get coveted floor photographer positions than in the past. There are many volunteers at each venue to assist with everything from information to tours of the buildings.

With hockey, a high-demand sport, a system of assigned seating around the glass and in elevated photo positions has been implemented. The photo managers have done a great job negotiating photo positions. There are 60 photo positions for photographers along the glass on the ice, in addition to dozens more overhead.

Me: Have weather challenges made your photographic coverage problematic? If so, how have you overcome these challenges?

Walker: The weather in Sochi is the news of the day. It was warm at the last Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but Sochi is much warmer — it has routinely been in the upper 50s or low 60s since my arrival. Naturally it’s colder in the mountains, but it’s like a spring heat wave in the city at the Olympic Park.

All the weather challenges have been in the mountains, where there is a lack of snow due to the warm weather. Not only is it not snowing, but the snow on the ground is melting. I personally am fighting off a cold. It is warm outside but very chilly inside. I wear moderate winter clothing because the temperatures inside a venue like the Alder Long Track Speed Racing facility can be as much as 20 degrees lower than outside.

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform during the team ice dance free figure skating dance short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Sunday, Feb, 9, 2014. USA’s team won the bronze medal in the event. (Harry E. Walker/MCT)

Me: What have been your most valuable lessons learned so far?

Walker: Patience, planning and logistics. Working with venue photo managers has been pleasant. They are eager to assist you in getting a good photo position. Convey your needs and they try to accommodate you, and they seem to remember who you are the next time you come back to the venue. I wonder if it is because of the reduced number of photographers at the games or because I am the only African-American photographing the games. Read more

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Live chat replay: how to make LinkedIn work for you

With more than a quarter billion people using LinkedIn, almost 100 million of them in the United States, LinkedIn has reach.

But how do you get the most out of it? What can it do for your career other than show people your work history?

LinkedIn Corporate Communication Manager Yumi Wilson will walk us through some strategies. A former journalist and journalism professor, Wilson’s LinkedIn profile says she now links journalists with success. Find out how.

For this chat, open one window for Poynter.org and another for your LinkedIn profile page.

Join us for a live chat on Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat after it has ended.

Visit www.poynter.org/chats to find an archive of all past chats.

To post a question: Log in by entering your name below or sign in with a social media account. Your question goes to moderation, and we’ll get to it shortly!

Twitter users can ask questions using the hashtag #poynterchat.

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PoynterVision: how journalists can work with coders on projects

Understanding enough code for journalists to communicate with developers still isn’t enough, says Robert Hernandez, digital journalism professor at USC Annenberg and Poynter adjunct faculty. Watch the video to see what Hernandez recommends to help journalists work successfully with developers on data projects.


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PoynterVision: Step up to leadership by volunteering

Poynter’s Jill Geisler, senior faculty of leadership and management, shares her story of how she became the news director of a major market network affiliate at age 27 in the 1970s when only a few handful of women ran newsrooms.


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Related Training: The 10 powers of leadership | Advice for the Newly Named News Director | What Great Bosses Know About Leadership Styles Read more

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Understanding opportunities and challenges in sponsored content (Replay chat)

Shane Snow, cofounder with two friends of Contently, manages a network of 25,000 freelancers. According to Contently’s website, the sweet spot where these freelancers thrive is creating content for “brands, nonprofits, and lean new media companies.”

Snow and his team, described as a mashup of journalists and nerds, are on the front edge of branded content or native advertising.

Forbes, a Contently client, recognized Snow this month in “30 under 30: These People are Building the Media Companies of Tomorrow.”

Snow joined us for a live chat on the opportunities, challenges and values of sponsored content.

Participants asked Snow about the ins and outs of branded content.

Twitter users can participate in any Poynter live chat using the hashtag #poynterchats. You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat after it has ended. You can find the archive of all past chats at www.poynter.org/chats.

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PoynterVision: @webjournalist on how he builds his personal brand

How has Robert Hernandez created a successful persona on Twitter as @webjournalist with over 11,500 followers? He says he decided to be just who he is.

Hernandez, digital journalism professor at USC Annenberg, adjunct faculty at Poynter and music fan, told me that he talks about the many projects he has started, including #wjchat for journalists to discuss media topics via Twitter or beta testing Google Glass, and he tells jokes and quotes song lyrics.

His parting advice: “Be genuine when you engage with others,” he wrote in a Twitter direct message to me. “Be genuine in who you follow and learn from.”


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Related: Tips for Storytellers: Your personal brand | How journalists can build their own powerful brands | As brands start building digital newsrooms, what do they need to succeed? Read more

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PoynterVision: New managers can reframe conversations for success

New managers need to know what their team expects of them when they step into their new roles, says Jill Geisler, Poynter’s senior faculty in leadership and management. Geisler asks a couple of questions to help new managers reframe the conversation for success.


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Related Training: Managing Change: Creating Strategies, Setting Priorities | Innovation at Work: Helping New Ideas Succeed Read more

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Interactive Media

Explore the makings of interactive journalism

At some point, every journalist grapples with figuring out what his or her story is about – particularly if that story involves complex data sets or government documents, and the end result will be an interactive project rather than a straightforward narrative.

Perhaps Andrew DeVigal can help.

DeVigal is director of content strategy at Second Story and the former multimedia editor at The New York Times. In a phone interview, he shared the steps he takes when starting an interactive project to ensure the results form a cogent story.

The first question he asks himself is a deceptively simple one: “What does the content want to be?” It is a question he attributes to a former colleague at The Times, Steve Duenes, AME for graphics.

DeVigal, a self-described “natural organizer,” likes to partition the information into buckets to understand the different pieces of the story. In doing that, he will ask himself such questions as, “What is the information about?”, “Who does it affect?” and “What is at stake here?”

When he has a solid understanding of the information available to him, his next step is to “highlight the most important key elements.” That helps him determine how to present the interactive so the viewer can dive into complexity, or skim if the information is too complex.

“That’s the true craft of a journalist: to make things clear for the viewers and readers,” he said.

DeVigal’s last step before building the interactive is to think about the audience and the context in which they will see the story. Analyzing the potential audience is very difficult, DeVigal said, especially for general-purpose news sites that are “trying to hit as many people as possible.” Nonetheless, he added that it’s crucial to “frame the presentation so that you actually have a very known target audience,” even if that leads you to creating two different versions of your interactive aimed at different target audience.

What is interactive journalism?

DeVigal’s philosophy on interactives has been shaped by a career that began in informational graphics at The Chicago Tribune, took him to Knight-Ridder as a designer and brought him to San Francisco State University as a professor of visual journalism while he was a fellow and visiting faculty at Poynter, and then led him to the Times. After six years in New York, DeVigal moved to Oregon and began working for Second Story, a design studio specializing in interactive storytelling and part of SapientNitro.

But what is interactive journalism, anyway?

The term has described many multimedia news packages — think Snowfall, Gauging Your Distraction, Firestorm, A World Apart and Hazardous Hospitals. These projects combine video, photos, audio, graphics, maps, data visualizations and text to tell stories that couldn’t exist before the Internet.

But DeVigal sees interactive journalism as far more than a reflection of which media are used for storytelling. To him, it’s a carefully crafted experience, one that draws users in and lets them create their own individual stories from the content available.

Several aspects of interactives allow this. For starters, viewers can consume a story at their own pace and find their own path through it, instead of following a linear presentation typical of print.

Open pathways lead to personalization: DeVigal wants to make viewers feel as if the “story was about themselves.”

He offered the example of a map — it’s interactive because a user can start with the big picture and then drill down to only see information on, say, California. The ability to switch perspectives gives designers breathing room to introduce more complex information that wasn’t possible in static print stories. The user can also customize the map, creating a new and unique experience every time.

An experiment in film

Since DeVigal started working outside of the news industry, he has had more freedom to experiment. In October, for instance, DeVigal and his team at Second Story experimented with an interactive storytelling project, Shape of Story, at a screening of seven short films on gun rights and gun-control laws at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Ore.


Shape of Story from Second Story on Vimeo.

During each film, viewers were asked to tap a button on an app every time they had an emotional reaction. Immediately after each film, the Second Story team projected a visualization on the screen showing which moments caused the most reactions from the audience. This visualization was the shape of the story.

Viewers also had three minutes to submit comments through the app, with the team choosing comments to display on the big screen alongside the visualization.

The goal wasn’t to find the perfect shape of story, but to explore whether interactions among audience members could add value to the movie-going experience.

The short answer according to Nora Bauman, operations manager at Second Story, is yes. The key to interactives, she said in a phone interview, is that “you’re creating an experience for a user so they can write their own narrative.”

Perhaps that’s why DeVigal has always asked the same question, regardless of the medium he’s using or where he’s been employed: “Can we bring the same special ingredient around campfire storytelling into the ways we’re telling stories?”


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Correction and clarification: A previous version of this story located the Hollywood Theatre in Los Angeles rather than Portland, Ore. DeVigal attributes a question he asks himself to a former colleague, Steve Duenes, and Second Story is a part of SapientNitro. Read more

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