Monday, June 23, 2014

The immersive story presentation


While the New York Times' Snowfall story may not have been the first immersive story presentation -- as I like to call them -- it was the first that caught all our attention, and that of the Pulitzer committee. Since then, there have been an avalanche of such projects (pun intended) and this past weekend, the Statesman added our own: Drugs follow Eagle Ford energy boom.

Eagle Ford drugs did not break any new ground. In fact, it was a baby step for us built upon the work of others, inspired by the Globe and Mail's Magnetic North feature. We had a desire to get into this space, a good story by one of my UT-Austin students, Michael Marks, and some excellent photography by Jay Janner.

It was a method for us to discover the challenges we might face doing more of this kind of storytelling. It's really just the first step. My aim as the editor for our interactive team is to tell stories in completely different ways than a "long story with a bunch of pictures." I personally hold NPR's T-shirt project as seminal inspiration. We'll get there. (I could really use some help ... come help me build something bad ass.)

So, here is what we used:

  • Foundation: This is the responsive design HTML/CSS framework we used to build Eagle Ford drug (and our XGames package and the Austin Homicide Project and some others. It gives us flexibility to focus more on the content than on how to present it. Our goal is to be mobile-first, and this code base allows us to do that quickly. I started with nothing on Tuesday and had everything finished by Friday, including some new development I hadn't done before.
  • Slick: A javascript plugin that allowed us to embed a swipeable? gallery within the story. I had a BUNCH of great photos that I wanted to include. Slick was one way to do this, but we'll keep experimenting with this an other JS plugins. This brought in quantity, but I didn't do that great a job in giving these multitude of great photos the play they deserved. We need BIGGER. Some kind of lightbox treatment or something. Also, we have some issues with Firefox on a desktop where the usability is a bit buggy.
  • The inset concept I lifted liberally from the aforementioned Globe and Mail presentation. I didn't see anything like this native in Foundation, so I looked at how they accomplished this and tried to build in that functionality to our Foundation framework. It worked for the most part, but there are some issues to work out with IE where our insets don't break the right margin of the text.
I used this project to build a template for future projects, but as you can see it still has some issues. I'm not sophisticated enough as a coder to share all this on Github, but we'll get there eventually. I'm sure there are plenty of other better places to start out there anyway.


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