Teaching Examples

Using a timeline to tell a story
September 29, 2006, 1:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

In multimedia journalism packages, we have a lot of choices for how to present the information. For stories that persist over time — especially those that go back for months or even years — a graphical timeline can be a great solution to the puzzle of presentation. Online, an animated timeline can be even better.

Atentados de Al Qaeda
This timeline is part of a package created last year by El País, one of the great newspapers of Madrid. It is inside the segment titled “Atentados de Al Qaeda” (“Attacks by Al Qaeda”). The full package is “Londres, Atacada” (“London, Attacked”).

Atentados de Al Qaeda
You want to make the story clear and manageable to the reader. You must avoid “mystery meat” navigation — that is, a timeline that doesn’t give them anything but the time information. Never make people click into something with no clue as to what they will get by clicking!

I found this timeline to be very clear and easy to use. There are 12 tiny squares for each year, each representing a month. If any attacks occurred in a given month, that square is red. Below the square, a number tells us how many separate attacks took place in that month. Clicking a red square causes a pulsing red dot to appear on the world map, and details about the earliest attack appear on the left. When more than one attack is indicated on the map, you can click each location to see its unique details.

The timeline also indicates any square you have already clicked by making it turn dark. That’s a rare feature to see in Flash animations, and it’s very good for the user.

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