Editor's note: Dan Archer will demo transmedia storytelling at 11 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 25, in the Bullring at the Online News Association conference in Chicago. He'll also be available for questions and demonstrations at RJI’s booth, Table 28, on the Midway. Archer’s times at Table 28 include: 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday; 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Friday; and 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

While spending several years as a freelance graphic journalist, I watched the recurring trials and tribulations of editors wanting to bring innovation to their respective publications, whether it was through an animated segment or a piece of graphic journalism.

Often, potential projects would languish simply because of budgetary or infrastructural constraints. Many organizations felt ill-equipped or understaffed to introduce new technologies to their readership. If they did introduce them, such technologies took significantly longer than anticipated to shepherd through complex content management system software, given their reliance on staff across multiple departments (from editorial to art to IT) to sign off and make them go live.

With the advent of groundbreaking, immersive technology such as the Oculus Rift and interactive video, together with the accelerated rate at which online portals are developing, such problems are only being compounded for smaller newsrooms, especially as they tighten their budgets. Yet the demand for such content from online audiences is higher than ever. Studies show (such as this extensive report by Noah Kagan at OKdork.com) that infographics reap the highest share rates of any other online content.

The chief goal is to harness the power and versatility that the Web and these new technologies afford us to allow readers to truly experience someone else’s perspective and foster a direct connection to the story.

The predominant emotion behind such sharing was “awe.” Admittedly, combining “laughter” and “amusement” would surpass “awe” (let's not deny the power of kitten and cute baby YouTube videos). We can infer from Kagan’s report that readers want to be challenged and surprised by the reading experience in a way they haven’t been before. I believe that is the reason behind the success of my BBC piece on human trafficking in Nepal last year, which garnered 1.2 million hits and more than 4,000 shares within days of publication. The article was among the first of its kind to combine investigative journalism with a comic format.

Where does my project, Empathetic Media, fit into this? I see it as the natural evolution of the visual storytelling approach I’ve developed through my graphic journalism. The core tenets apply: immersive environments; first-person perspectives; interactivity at the forefront, yet not detracting from the core story; and a pervasive sense of empathy with those who are sharing their stories.

The chief goal is to harness the power and versatility that the Web and these new technologies afford us to allow readers to truly experience someone else’s perspective and foster a direct connection to the story.

Through cross-platform, transmedia feature pieces, different aspects of a story can be presented and explored as the reader deems fit, giving them the agency to navigate their own way through pieces instead of being bound by a linear framework.

Advantage over text only 

As you can see from my work for Cartoon Movement, a Dutch news site, laying out words and images as panels on a page has distinct advantages over text-only pieces. First and foremost, it’s possible to represent the same moment from different perspectives, such as in my piece on the Nisoor Square Shootings. Panels also make it possible to present a historical timeline (on an x axis) with parallel tangents that the reader can explore (on a y axis) without leaving the same screen, as seen in my piece on the International Criminal Court. Trying to replicate similar processes in text would be far more confusing to readers, given its inherently linear nature. Yet another advantage is the ability to embed source material and links within images and add meta layers of substantiating evidence to the panels.  Freeware tools such as Thinglink are good for this, as in the case of my comic on the privatization of the educational system in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

In my next post, I'll delve into more detail on the definition of transmedia journalism and my plans for building out cross-platform sites from the techniques I've listed above.


Dan Archer  
Residential fellow


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