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From the Editor’s Desk: An introduction to interactive journalism

An interactive piece that explains a complex issue; published by Portfolio.com.

What “is” interactive journalism?

The jury is out on an official definition – “interactive” being somewhat of a nebulous word that could have different meanings depending on who you ask. But, based on one of Asian American Journalists Association’s [1] (AAJA) recent conventions, “interactive” is interchangeable with “visual.”

Whether you call it “interactive journalism” or “visual journalism,” this niche is the result of an ever-evolving landscape affected and influenced by technology. The Internet has created readers who want to consume content a certain way. Smartphones, tablets and other gadgets have only reinforced this demand. News needs to be easily digestible, attention-grabbing and, to some extent, driven by data. Data visualizations help to convey information so that news is delivered with those elements in mind. Some examples include:

Aside from being convenient to the reader, interactive pieces do more than deliver news. They encourage engagement by creating “a universe” for audiences to explore. Portfolio.com posted an interactive feature called “VCs Go Global,” [2] which allows people to visually traverse – by way of a roadmap – through an environment that highlights the center of the venture capital world. A fairly straightforward piece.

To convey more complex concepts, interactive journalism combines the power of graphics and storytelling to illustrate topics that are more intricate in nature. In another Portfolio.com interactive piece, a pump analogy was used to explain an antiquated yet relevant subject matter – collateralized debt obligations – in “What’s a C.D.O.?” [3] (See image above.)

Interactive pieces are great sources of information, but, if applied, can do much more by revealing patterns. In potential life-or-death situations, patterns shown on interactive data maps could be the key to saving lives. AP Interactive, The Associated Press’ interactive division, created a data map that visually chronicles the European E. coli outbreak [4] by country. As the situation develops, updated information may provide more insight on possible causes. Data maps can also indicate trends. AP Interactive’s Economic Stress Index [5] measures financial strain in the U.S. and because it is continually updated, trends are emerging.

But what does this mean for journalists?

Back in the day (and by that, I mean circa early-1990s), journalism was fairly cut and dry. Journalists would identify a story idea, do the research and reporting and write the article. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but that was essentially the process. Today, journalists have to think beyond the written word if they want their pieces to resonate with their audience, particularly if their content is published and consumed online. Interactive journalism is a step in that direction.

Interactive journalists are a hybridized breed. Their skillset requires many different aptitudes beyond writing, although that’s still – and will always be — an important element. The ability to visualize coupled with technical literacy are significant in this line of work – but, as time goes on, may prove to be essential. Whether you tell your stories in written form, with images or interactively, it all boils down to good, old-fashioned journalism.

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