Teaching Examples

Multimedia package: Liberians in Minnesota
February 20, 2007, 2:13 pm
Filed under: design, journalism, multimedia, online, storytelling

Just out from the Star Tribune, which produces some of the best online journalism stories anywhere, this large package about immigrants from Liberia points the way toward improving journalism interface design.

Now, the story is excellent, and there’s great reporting here, and stunning photography too. The audio sequence in the intro Soundslides just blew me away, and the videos of the people living in Minnesota successfully show us what life is like for these immigrants. But in this post, I’m going to focus on the interface.

Why? Because so often, the interface for a big online story package makes a mess of everything.

This package is a rare exception. I know the credit goes to a whole team of folks working at the Star Tribune — many of them have been doing this for six or seven years or more. The experience shows in this package. Here are three things I particularly liked:

  1. Full window treatment: No pop-up at the start, and no added pop-ups later. The exceptions are a Star Tribune editor’s blog post about the story (opens in a new full window; comments are invited here, which is a very clever idea) and an external link to a PBS site (the package incorporates video from a 2002 documentary that originally aired on PBS — in itself a very interesting aspect of this package).
  2. The pull-down menu in the upper left corner works very gracefully, hiding itself automatically after you select something. It also opens sub-sections well. While at one point I thought I would not be able to tell which section I was currently in, as soon as I opened the menu to go somewhere else, I realized that the menu itself showed me clearly which section I was in. This made it easy to choose a new section without confusion.
  3. Perhaps my favorite thing — in the interface — is the integration of the text stories. This is absolutely brilliant. Just look at this solution to the all-too-common problem of “my multimedia and my long-form text are totally divorced from each other.” It’s an HTML page. Yet it is fully integrated with the multimedia package. Without being clumsily embedded inside it. I bet Dave Braunger came up with this — it’s such a brilliant solution, and Dave has the ActionScript know-how to pull this off. There are no extra windows. You go from the multimedia package to the HTML page and back again in one window, seamlessly. I want to fly out to Minneapolis and kiss the people who built this!

The design of this package — both visual and functional — is a milestone in multimedia journalism. It is the most successfully integrated online journalism package I have ever seen. I know that sounds all technical and cold, but it’s really a cause for emotional celebration. Here is a model for everyone — if you’re going to invest this much time and effort in reporting such a story (and I love it that it’s local, local, local), then THIS is the way to put it online.

And for heaven’s sake, DON’T change the URL!

(If you hit the registration wall at the Star Tribune site, get a free login from Bugmenot.)

Update (11:23 a.m.): Oh. My. Gosh. It sets a cookie for you. It remembers where you left off. Go to a segment. Close your browser. Open the browser again and return to the package. You will be in the last segment you were viewing! (Dave!!!)

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5 Comments so far
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::grin:: The smart thing to do would be to base my critique of that package off this post.

Comment by Megan Taylor

No, no, no! That would not be fair, O student.

Comment by Mindy McAdams

Love it, love it, love it!

Finally. We’re doing it, huh?

I too was most impressed with the interface. It is the icing on top of a deep package with solid reporting and storytelling behind it. Bravo to all who worked on the project.

I hope we continue to explore this form of presentation.

Comment by Melissa Worden

I thought the intro slideshow was brilliant … A definite hook to pull one into the package. I didn’t have time when I first saw it to explore the rest, but this post encourages me to go back now.

Comment by Angela Grant

Many thanks for your analysis of this project, Mindy. Combination of both you and Al calling attention to it proved irresistible, even amid seminar prep! The opener is one of the most effective Soundslides I’ve ever seen. Correction. THE most effective…

Comment by Bill Mitchell

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