On scaling and efficiency of long-form news story design, at #SRCCON 2014

Day one session, "Art directing posts, sustainably" with Scott Kellum and Lauren Rabaino. (Photo by Ramla Mahmood)
There seems to be an uptick of production in digital storytelling: More and more newsrooms are beginning to build longform editorial pieces on the web, with designs that break out of their day-to-day article templates.

Web developers in newsroom sometimes find themselves struggling to meet growing editorial demand for special treatment on story projects, sometimes by copy-and-pasting previous code in order to meet a deadline. These efforts to "make it work with longform" have begged discussions on how to scale design processes and whether to consider various tools that can help speed up the process of project creation.

In thinking about how to scale special editorial projects as well as work efficiently and at scale at Vox Media, Lauren Rabaino and Scott Kellum led a discussion on this topic at Knight-Mozilla OpenNews' inaugural #SRCCON conference.

Design is an integral part of storytelling, but to design each and every story for its content creates a near inconceivable amount of work, given the volume of content from the average media outlet. Newsroom story cycles move quickly and produce mass volumes of content, and developers are expensive. Therefore, it is important to consider a sustainable approach when building and designing special stories.

How can newsroom developers meet editorial demands and build epic longform pieces, but make it in a scalable way?

In this discussion, previously Editorially's, now Vox's Jason Santa Maria offered a metaphor to explain the issue by comparing building longforms to building pinewood derbies. Every kid starts with the same building blocks, but with a saw, some paint, and lots of imagination, every kid's pinewood derby turns out differently on race day. Same as in building longforms, creating blocks that are reusable and sustainable can make life a lot easier, and could done in a way that does not stifle innovation.

A number of newsrooms have created methods in helping scale longform pieces. The Chicago Tribune newsroom development team has their own forked version of the Twitter Bootstrap responsive framework, styled and customized to fit their own needs. When starting a project, developers won't have to re-style parts of the projects that are consistent like the navigation and branding. This along with their pre-baked flask template allows their team to start projects with minimal effort.

At Vox Media, the Chorus CMS includes code snippets which allows editors to create blocs in longform pieces for example inserting pull quotes, photo blocks or graphics, with minimum involvement of developers. For example, the recent Amazon Fire Phone Review from the Verge was done without any involvement from the product team.

Allen Tan at the New York Times shared their ranking system that is inspired by college sports. When a tool or feature is first introduced, it is considered junior varsity. When it is reused over and over again, it moves up to varsity level and is given more care and attention. He referenced Snowfall which The New York Times spent months working on with a dedicated team, but something similar can now be accomplished in a week.

For more day-to-day graphics, Emma Carew from Foreign Policy shared a spreadsheet in which they quantify time, process, tools for different types of graphics. This streamlines the process of editors working with web producers to create graphics, and both editorial and graphics would have similar expectations of the process and outcome.

The discussion wrapped up on the topic of users, both in terms of communication with editorial staff about internal processes or involving users in the editorial cycle. While these tools and add-ons can automate the process of project creation, it is important to consider user engagement and the purpose of certain projects, art direction and design should be used wisely to help users become more engaged with the content.



Notes from the session are available and the discussion will hopefully continue so that newsrooms can share with each other what works and what doesn’t. What is your newsroom doing to scale longform projects?

About the author

KK Rebecca Lai

Undergraduate Fellow

Latest Posts

  • Prototyping Augmented Reality

    Something that really frustrates me is that, while I’m excited about the potential AR has for storytelling, I don’t feel like I have really great AR experiences that I can point people to. We know that AR is great for taking a selfie with a Pikachu and it’s pretty good at measuring spaces (as long as your room is really well lit and your phone is fully charged) but beyond that, we’re really still figuring...

    Continue Reading

  • Capturing the Soundfield: Recording Ambisonics for VR

    When building experiences in virtual reality we’re confronted with the challenge of mimicking how sounds hit us in the real world from all directions. One useful tool for us to attempt this mimicry is called a soundfield microphone. We tested one of these microphones to explore how audio plays into building immersive experiences for virtual reality. Approaching ambisonics with the soundfield microphone has become popular in development for VR particularly for 360 videos. With it,...

    Continue Reading

  • How to translate live-spoken human words into computer “truth”

    Our Knight Lab team spent three months in Winter 2018 exploring how to combine various technologies to capture, interpret, and fact check live broadcasts from television news stations, using Amazon’s Alexa personal assistant device as a low-friction way to initiate the process. The ultimate goal was to build an Alexa skill that could be its own form of live, automated fact-checking: cross-referencing a statement from a politician or otherwise newsworthy figure against previously fact-checked statements......

    Continue Reading

  • Northwestern is hiring a CS + Journalism professor

    Work with us at the intersection of media, technology and design.

    Are you interested in working with journalism and computer science students to build innovative media tools, products and apps? Would you like to teach the next generation of media innovators? Do you have a track record building technologies for journalists, publishers, storytellers or media consumers? Northwestern University is recruiting for an assistant or associate professor for computer science AND journalism, who will share an appointment in the Medill School of Journalism and the McCormick School...

    Continue Reading

  • Introducing StorylineJS

    Today we're excited to release a new tool for storytellers.

    StorylineJS makes it easy to tell the story behind a dataset, without the need for programming or data visualization expertise. Just upload your data to Google Sheets, add two columns, and fill in the story on the rows you want to highlight. Set a few configuration options and you have an annotated chart, ready to embed on your website. (And did we mention, it looks great on phones?) As with all of our tools, simplicity...

    Continue Reading

  • Join us in October: NU hosts the Computation + Journalism 2017 symposium

    An exciting lineup of researchers, technologists and journalists will convene in October for Computation + Journalism Symposium 2017 at Northwestern University. Register now and book your hotel rooms for the event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 14 in Evanston, IL. Hotel room blocks near campus are filling up fast! Speakers will include: Ashwin Ram, who heads research and development for Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) agent, which powers the...

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More