Interactive News

If this post’s title sounds like an oxymoron – it is deliberately so. Print newspapers are declining – not yet Dodo material. Even in Toronto with 4 daily print newspapers [Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The Sun – note each of these are Internet editions], the newspapers are surviving. The “staying alive”strategy is fairly consistent –  higher newstand prices [nearly $4 on average for Sunday editions], active internet paywalls, and luring readers with game, deals with advertisers,plus interactives charts in their Internet editions.In an age of fast moving change, being able to explain clearly through charts, graphics and other data visualizations has become vital for the “print” media.

Charts and Graphics become Interactive Data Visualizations

Now Newspapers and Magazines have a long history of using printed charts and graphics in novel way to illustrate stories and complex events. Just check Edward Tufte’s classic book The Visual Display of  Quantitative Information for many historical examples of outstanding printed graphics over the decades.  There is  a website, The Interactive News which chronicles the use of  interactive data visualizations across a broad swath of US  journalism.
The Interactive News has 3 criteria of excellence for its selected Interactive Visualizations

1. The multimedia aspect of the story should clarify & enhance the narrative beyond what the text alone could provide.
2. Reader comprehension should be enhanced through interactivity, data visualizations, charts, maps, diagrams, or other visual forms.
3. The overall design, writing, and formatting should strike a balance between informative, engaging, and beautiful.

Here is an infamous example from 2016:
So Interactive Data Visualizations can be spectacularly wrong . But Data Visualizations do have persuasive power as outlined by DataPine:

  • 90% of the information transmitted to the brain is visual – a testament to the power and potential of data visualization.
  • People are 30 times more likely to absorb high-quality infographics than plain text.
  • Studies suggest that if a scientific claim is presented in only words or numbers, 68% of people will deem the information to be accurate and truthful. But if the same insights or metrics are presented in a simple graph, the number rises to 97%.
  • A business intelligence strategy that leverages data visualization will provide an ROI of $13.01 back on every dollar spent

Now it is interesting that 4 organizations, NYTimes, Washington Post, Reuters, and Bloomberg dominate the The Interactive News best examples of Interactive Visualization. And those examples used maps over statistical charts, and policy issues over people. So I was stunned by the effectiveness of a recent NYTimes Interactive that conveyed a people story so effectively.

NYTimes 18 Questions for 21 of 22 Democratic Candidates

The screenshot above loses the tongue-in-cheek humor of the story header. On the live page, every one of the candidates is shown in a small video of them answering a Times’ question.  So readers see 3 times the Seven Dwarfs earnestly and soundlessly stating their cases.
But after this wryness, the NYTimes interactive is all business:
Click on a candidate’s image icon and you are taken to a series of 18 videos of the candidate answering the Times queries. Here is Bernie Sanders:
By tapping on a video it silences any ongoing video and starts the answer in the selected video. The result is surprisingly effective. You get to hear the personality and conviction of the candidate in their responses.Its not just written words but a measure of their belief and mission. When I originally went to the story I expected to listen to  maybe 3-4 candidates but I found myself listening to all the candidates. I also expected to hear a touch of political “snake-fork-tongue”. But cases of hissing were primarily from the New York area.. Rather I was impressed with the knowledge and policy points of view of the candidates. And in a small way it was encouraging to see the antithesis of Trumpian self-deception.

The Technology

The NYTimes is famous for being a very large scale WordPress Website. And since WordPress has many sophisticated video media plugins , I expected the NYTimes to use anyone of  these. But no, this is a classic SPA-Single Page App written in HTML5/JavaScript/CSS. The App is loaded to the teeth with CDN,  SEO,  Usage stats, Messaging, meta tagging, ad refining, and other specialized admin routines.In a sense, this HTML5 page is a reflection of the app integration trend that prevails on the Web.

However the use of video snippets with easy navigation  is a winning feature. There  are 378 videos to show. Most of the candidate’s  answers are short and to the point as encouraged by the NYTimes interviewers. But a number of candidates amplify their viewpoints [just check the responses to question 3 about climate change.].Users can easily navigate among the videos following two different paths. Go to all the candidate answers to  a specific  question by clicking on it in the list of 18 questions, The NYTimes interactive then acts a s vertical slider exposing one by one each of the candiadte’s video on that specific question.

Likewise to see all the answers by a specific candidate, click on the the candidates icon and again you will be taken to a vertical carousel of videos but this time they are the candidate’s answers to the 18 questions. Now the video controller is clever. As soon as the video finishes, its audio is turned off . Also, if you click on a neighbouring video, the current video is turned off and control including audio begins in the clicked on video. In sum, this is a clever way to get a very informative view of 21 diverse candidates.

Summary

The print media , newspapers, magazines, even posters and signage have been disrupted and nearly busted by the Internet, mobile apps and streaming info and entertainment on the Web. Slowly but surely the print media are turning their businesses around. They have certainly become Internet savvy using interactive online visuals of increasing sophistication. First to appear were  compelling images and illustrative maps combined in carousel slideshows and user advanced presentations. Then animations and 3D graphics, sometimes in the form of  game to provide technical insights or illustrate the complex interactions in economic, environment or social issues. But also the print media are borrowing from able and network TV, using video and podcasts to bring the latest breaking news with better insights.

The NYTimes 18 Questions for 21 Candidates did just that – made a complex problem – getting the views of 21  of 22 Democratic Presidential candidates available in such a compelling format. This interactive is more than just videos but a highly accessible revelation providing valuable personality insights. But also it is harbinger of what is to come in the print media. 18 questions for 21 Democrats could be printed out in newspaper format as 378 excerpts. But the easy navigation, the tone of voice, the candidates’ demeanours are simply lost. As readers will see at Interactive News, the print media are fast getting acquainted with their new digs, the Interactive Web. Given the increasing tide of misinformation being allowed on the Web by negligent caretakers in Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon and other Web media giants, it is encouraging to see the print media asserting their Interactive Visual savvy.