Innovation @ BBG » Storytelling http://www.innovation-series.com Fri, 20 Nov 2015 18:47:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.6.1 The illustrated stories of women struggling for human rights http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/07/01/illustrating-women-struggling-human-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illustrating-women-struggling-human-rights http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/07/01/illustrating-women-struggling-human-rights/#comments Wed, 01 Jul 2015 17:31:32 +0000 Xi Rotmil http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6542 Earlier this year, the Office of Digital Design and Innovation (ODDI) collaborated with Radio Free Asia and created  “It’s not Ok” – a collection of portraits of Asian women caught in the struggle for human rights in their communities, some willingly, others forced by circumstances.

ODDI UX studio head Steve Fuchs and senior designer Brian Williams were invited to illustrate the stories of these women.

“We wanted to create a series of distinctive portraits, using a variety of mediums and techniques. This goal was rooted in both the desire to treat each story as unique as well as the practical limitations of using the available reference photos and videos,” Steve and Brian wrote in the Artist Statement.

To know more about the creative process and details of this project, we interviewed both Steve and Brian.

Why did you use illustrations instead of photos?

Steve: For some women we found an abundance of photos documenting their public struggles, for others we found virtually no visual reference, as they struggled alone.

Also, rather than just having a photo, I think the illustrations can be more engaging.

 

Challenges

Steve: Capturing the essence of a person from a video or few photographs, is a challenging prospect. When the subject of your portrait is a part of a larger narrative, the project becomes even more daunting.

Brian: As Steve mentioned, one challenge was the limitations of what we had to work with. Some of these women are really well-known human rights activists, so they’ve been extensively documented and there are some really great reference photos that we were able to find. But other women are not well known. They really don’t have any photograph or reference. So how do you draw a portrait of someone without knowing what they look like? Or if you do have a photograph of them, it’s such a tiny one that you can’t see their face. That was definitely the case with Jiao Xia. So it was more about illustrating the scene from a story where she was protesting.

jiao_xia

Jiao Xia paid the ultimate sacrifice, divorce, for the love of her husband.

Process

Steve: For this project we used a variety of mediums: pen and ink, watercolor, pastel, scratchboard, pencil, and computer to not only reproduce a likeness, but illustrate an individual story of courage.

IMG_7286

Work in progress.

Brian: we wanted each of the portraits to be different, and unique. So we just kind of pushed each other to come up with new solutions, to find new ways to draw the portrait.

 

How do you and Brian go about drawing a character? Is it a combined effort?

Steve: We looked at each other’s sketches making suggestions, it was very collaborative.

Brian: A lot of times, for illustrations you kind of work in a black box where you don’t get a lot of feed backs. And in this case, because we were both partnering on illustrations, it was really nice to be able to bounce ideas off, to do some sketches.

Steve: We tried to do as many different styles as we could, because each case is different.

After we did these initial sketches, we ran them by the individual language bureaus at RFA, because there are some cultural contexts, and cultural sensitivities that we do not know. For instance, the portrait I did for a Tibetan woman, I had it done in a Tibetan painting style, and turned out it is very offensive. The Tibetan’s feel their culture and art has been monetized and exploited by the Chinese. I toned it down, and took the illustration a different direction.

 

How long did the whole process take?

Steve: We made 12 drawings and it took six weeks in total.

The second edition, which is made for the International Women’s day, is more compressive because of the deadline. It took us three weeks.

 

What’s your favorite piece?

Dechen Pemba makes sure that Tibetan voices not heard inside China can be heard online.

Dechen Pemba makes sure that Tibetan voices not heard inside China can be heard online.

Steve: My favorite is the Tibetan woman Dechen Pemba. She really liked it and used it as her Facebook profile picture. As I said, because of  cultural sensibility, I had to change the original drawing. In the end, because we worked with the RFA Tibetan Service, we got something better.

Gao Yu is a veteran journalist in China who has been repeatedly imprisoned but never silenced.

Gao Yu is a veteran journalist in China who has been repeatedly imprisoned but never silenced.

Brian: I really like the one I did for Gao Yu. On this one, I know I want to do one that is more collage based. Sort of cutting out shapes and then putting them together, I started with the portrait. Because she’s a writer, so I put the keyboard there.

What’s next?

Steve: What we are hoping to do after this is to do something that moves. RFA has a project going forward on human trafficking. We are hoping to do some 30-second animations for that.

Brian: They’ve hired a team of documentary journalists to produce a series of video, and we are trying to take excerpt from the interviews, and produce a series of animations – something that hopefully will help pull people into the story through social media and from there they’ll see the longer documentary.

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Meerkat, Periscope and the Gamification of Live Streaming http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/04/27/periscope-meerkat-and-the-gamification-of-live-streaming/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=periscope-meerkat-and-the-gamification-of-live-streaming http://www.innovation-series.com/2015/04/27/periscope-meerkat-and-the-gamification-of-live-streaming/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 17:23:00 +0000 Randy Abramson http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6428 Periscope and Meerkat are barely months old and they have already become the ‘platforms to most likely to replace your TV/browser/mobile stream/favorite YouTube channel.’ Why have these platforms grown so quickly? Because the streams are personal and interactive, but most of all, the entire experience is fun. Live video streaming is nothing new, but pre-Periscope/Meerkat streaming was far from a ‘fun’ experience, neither for the people shooting the live stream (which required a decent amount of configuration and prosumer equipment, at the very least) or for the viewer who passively watched streams with the exception of those that included chat modules that often competed with the stream for your attention. Periscope and Meerkat are easy to use for both the shooter and viewer and the entire experience has addictive game-like qualities for everyone involved. Here are the fun gamification challenges for both the viewer and streamer:

Gamification for the stream shooter:

Can I pack a room?
On Periscope, after a certain number of people join your stream, new viewers get a ‘room full’ message that blocks them from using the chat feature. This is frustrating for the viewer, but it reaffirms that the host can draw a crowd.

Can I keep up with the comment stream?
Watching someone like Jack Smith IV (@JackSmithIV) of the observer.com on Periscope can be exhausting. Users continuously fire questions at him, personal and work related and Jack attempts to answer each one, alternating between brash opinion, keen insight and snarky defense, all while continuously smoking cigarettes.

Can I get keep the hearts flowing?
On Periscope, when users see things that they like, they tap on the screen and hearts float up the side to show their approval.

What’s my score on the Leader Board?
On Meerkat, each broadcaster is assigned a score and the app displays a Leader Board that shows rankings. Time spent on Meerkat and the number of viewers you have impact the score.

leaderboard2
The Meerkat Leader Board – the ultimate in live stream gamification

Can I get all followers to do what I ask them to?
Once you have a loyal fan base, is it possible to get viewers to read an article of yours, follow you on Instagram, share your website URL, etc.?

Can I get more followers by broadcasting?
Ultimately, increasing your number of followers is the most addictive part of Periscope and Meerkat. If you missed out on getting a big following on Twitter, you get another shot with these new platforms.

Can I get my stream featured on the Welcome page?
It’s not clear yet on how Periscope or Meerkat is featuring streams on the screen users see when they launch the apps. There will be a future where getting your stream promoted on the Welcome page of the app will be worth as much as page 1 results in Google.

Gamification for the stream viewers:

Can I get into a room before the chat room is at max capacity?
If there is a celebrity broadcasting on Periscope, you better get there early if you want your question answered!

Can I get my comments answered?
Even if you get into a stream’s chat room, you still need to say something interesting enough for the host to acknowledge you.

Can I get the streamer to do what I ask or show me something?
One of the most popular requests on Periscope is ‘Show me what’s in your fridge?’ Enough said.

Can I make the host stay on longer?
Often the host will say they have to get going, but an interesting question can keep them on the stream.

Can I rattle or stump the host?
This can lead to either hysterical laughter or flat out disgust, depending on the question and temperament of the host. Either way, the questions are embedded in the video for all to see.

But What Does All This Have To Do With Journalism?

Both of these platforms are still young and we’re starting to see various news outlets experiment with the tool. Some broadcasters are doing quick, informal recaps of trending stories and a handful of anchors have set up streams of their broadcasts in real time. There have been some breaking news stories on Periscope, but those broadcasts are competing for eyeballs with the intimate ‘ask me anything’ sessions that Jack Smith IV or billionaire Chris Sacca broadcast on a regular basis. Chris and Jack have mastered the gamification points listed above and audiences keep coming back for more. As a journalist for the Observer, Jack Smith has been keen to interact with his fans on a personal level, but he also makes mention of his digital work on the Observer site, Instagram and other platforms. He says that the Periscope fans have been anxious to consume that content and have been passionate sharers of his work.
Jack Smith
@jacksmithIV has found a regular following on Periscope by broadcasting daily

When you try to cover hard news with Meerkat and Perisocope, you get something that is interactive first, broadcasting quality second. Video is shot in portrait mode only, comments obscure the view of your broadcast and the user is free to float hearts (on Periscope) and unfiltered comments up the side of your video, even during the most downtrodden of events. There are other streaming tools that journalists should explore. StringWire, for example (a NBC owned app), allows for multiple mobile device input, landscape shooting and a mixing console where a producer can control the view of what users see and download clips for editing. StringWire is an incredible piece of broadcasting technology, but the interactive components of Meerkat and Periscope are absent in their early version release. StringWire is more about showing the news. Meerkat and Periscope audiences become part of the news and if they are winning ‘the game,’ the broadcaster might actually let the audience drive the camera views and the broadcast itself.

As a viewer, I’m drawn into Periscope and Meerkat streams that I would normally not seek out through Google search. I can sit shotgun with a parasailor or watch the bustle inside a Swedish restaurant kitchen. Hard news has always competed with whimsy for attention, but the number of cameras on the ground has just increased tremendously. News organizations will have to engage with viewers and build trust and allegiance in a way that they’ve never had to do before. As the young kids say, Game On!

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The new digital storytelling: BBG’ e-books on immigration, human Rights, freedom, and love http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/11/25/the-new-digital-storytelling-bbg-e-books-on-immigration-human-rights-freedom-and-love/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-new-digital-storytelling-bbg-e-books-on-immigration-human-rights-freedom-and-love http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/11/25/the-new-digital-storytelling-bbg-e-books-on-immigration-human-rights-freedom-and-love/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 20:35:59 +0000 Xi Rotmil http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6383 E-books offer new channels to engage with an audience and tell great stories, whether it is with a serialized collection of text-based stories for small e-readers or an interactive audio/video/photo magazine for tablet devices.

With access to RFA and VOA’s websites restricted in mainland China and some other Asian countries, short-wave broadcasts jammed and other filters hampering access to the broadcaster’s output, e-books also has the potential to circumvent the firewall – once it has been downloaded on to a tablet device, it can be shared easily among friends, relations and colleagues.

To test the feasibility of using e-books for BBG, the Office of Digital Design and Innovation collaborated with RFA and VOA on the creation of four e-books using different tools.

The four ebooks in the pilot project featured topics ranging from immigration, Asian women fighting for human rights, China’s pro-democracy movement that ended in tragedy, to a  jailed Uyghur writer’s tale of longing for lost freedom.

Remembering Tiananmen

“Remembering Tiananmen” represents the first foray for BBG into the iBook world of interactive storytelling. The Chinese edition is

aimed at an audience that was not even born when these events happened, and because of censorship, may not have any idea that the turmoil of 1989 ever took place.

The publication leverages previously published audio eyewitness accounts, historic “RFA exclusive” photography and video, archive photos, along with newly created custom maps and diagrams. The heart of the book is an interactive timeline that allows the reader to navigate events chronologically, in addition to traditional chapter-based browsing. Through the multimedia interface the viewer not only reads the narrative facts of events, but also experiences the sights and sounds of Beijing in the spring of 1989.

View RemberingTiananmen in the iTunes Store

 

Caged, The Illustrated Writings of Nurmuhemmet Yasin

In 2013, Radio Free Asia released Caged: The writings of Nurmuhemmet Yasin in the iBook store. The project represents another successful collaboration between RFA and ODDI, following on the success of Remembering Tiananmen.

This e-book features the now banned tale and an essay about love. Nurmuhemmet Yasin was a successful Uyghur author living in western China when he published “Wild Pigeon”. The short fable tells the story of a wild pigeon prince who is captured and caged by men. He ultimately decides that suicide is preferable to a life spent in captivity. After it was published, the Chinese government recognized that the story was an allegory for the Uyghur people living under Chinese rule. The court sentenced Yasin to 10 years in prison for inciting Uyghur separatism.

View Caged in the iTunes store

Unsettled: A Story of U.S. Immigration

Unsettled, a story of U.S. Immigration, produced in partnership with VOA, gives insight into the economic forces, social pressures, and policies that have shaped American immigration and explores where the nation may go in the future.

“Unsettled” presents the triumph, tragedy and contradictions of the immigrant experience through a multimedia exploration of history and economics. It includes interactive charts, maps, info graphics, audio clips, archival films, audio, stills, a U.S. naturalization quiz, and over a dozen video clips totaling more than 20 minutes.

View Unsettled in the iTunes Store

 

“It’s not OK.” Women struggling for human rights

“It’s not Ok” is a collection of portraits of Asian women caught in the struggle for human rights in their communities, some willingly, others forced by circumstances.

This e-book is based on reporting and interviews conducted by the RFA language services in Burmese, Lao, Khmer, Korean, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tibetan, Uyghur, and Vietnamese.

Each story is a testimony to the courage and determination of these women. The title, “it’s not OK,” comes from the public cry by one of them, in court, as she heard that her husband’s sentence had been extended by eight years.

These women urge us to look closer and peer into the reflection of their world. Only when we open our eyes to their struggle can we realize it is a shared, universal struggle for justice, fairness, and compassion. Their lives are made even more beautiful by the weight of their tireless convictions. When the light of the world’s attention shines on them, these women like hidden gems brighten, dazzle, and amaze,” president of RFAS Libby Liu wrote in the foreword.

View “It’s not OK” in the iTunes Store

One e-book in the pilot program, Tiananmen Square Remembered, won the International Media Excellence Award, held by the Association of International Broadcasters last year.

In addition, VOA News mobile application “Unsettled” has been selected as a winner for the 2014 W3 “Silver Award.”

 

 

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“Unsettled” wins the W3 Silver Award for Mobile Applications http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/11/17/unsettled-wins-the-w3-silver-award-for-mobile-applications/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unsettled-wins-the-w3-silver-award-for-mobile-applications http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/11/17/unsettled-wins-the-w3-silver-award-for-mobile-applications/#comments Mon, 17 Nov 2014 15:27:39 +0000 Xi Rotmil http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6344 The VOA News mobile application “Unsettled” has been selected as a winner for the 2014 W3 “Silver Award.”w3winner_silver_wht

W3 Awards honor creative excellence on the Web, and recognizes the creative and marketing professionals behind award winning websites, web video and online marketing programs. The W3 is judged by the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts — an invitation-only body consisting of top-tier professionals from acclaimed media, interactive, advertising and marketing firms. The awards this year attracted more than 4,000 entries across the five award categories.

The application “Unsettled” presents the triumph, tragedy and contradictions of the immigrant experience through a multimedia exploration of history and economics. The app features interactive charts, maps, info graphics, audio clips, stills, and a U.S. naturalization quiz.

It also includes over a dozen exclusive video clips featuring intriguing interviews with: Mae Ngai, author of The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America, and the Lung Family professor of Asian American Studies and professor of History at Columbia University; Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University and blogger for EconLog. The New York Times named his first book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, “the best political book of the year” in 2007; William F. McDonald, sociology professor at Georgetown University and co-director of the Institute of Criminal and Procedure at the Law Center.

A co-production of VOA English and ODDI, the publication is VOA’s first long-form storytelling app and leverages the interactive opportunities offered by the iPad. The book is available on the iTunes store, Barnes and Noble, and Google.

“It’s gratifying to be recognized for the effort that went into “Unsettled”. We worked very hard to present a fair, accurate picture of the history of immigration in the U.S. in the hope it would provide context and understanding to the present-day debate,” said Mark Young, managing editor of VOA News English. “I’m grateful to the journalists, designers and developers who created an interesting and engaging ebook, and would also like to thank Mae Ngai, Bryan Caplan and William F. McDonald for contributing their time and expertise to the project.”

“We are exploring storytelling tools for BBG, and looking for new formats to engage our audience. The storytelling app allows for an immersive experience, and could be an important long-form Journalism format in the future,” ODDI UX Studio Manager Steve Fuchs said.

“Unsettled” is part of the ODDI Book Pilot, which aims to explore different epub formats and author tools.  Another book in the pilot program, Tiananmen Square Remembered, won the International Media Excellence Award, held by the Association of International Broadcasters last year.

 

Check out our innovative app “Unsettled” at:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/unsettled/id845321200?mt=8

Also in epub3 format:

https://play.google.com/store/books/details/Voice_of_America_News_Unsettled?id=r2xOBAAAQBAJ

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Creating responsive graphics and streamlined images for VOA’s World Cup coverage http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/08/14/creating-responsive-graphics-and-streamlined-images-for-voas-world-cup-coverage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=creating-responsive-graphics-and-streamlined-images-for-voas-world-cup-coverage http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/08/14/creating-responsive-graphics-and-streamlined-images-for-voas-world-cup-coverage/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 14:44:18 +0000 Brian Williamson http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=6176 For the French and English VOA World Cup sites, we wanted to create a lean, minimalist site. Through the use of progressive enhancements and responsive design we added features to provide an enhanced experience for phones, tablets and desktop browsers. What follows is a description of some of the techniques we used to optimize the World Cup sites.

Using progressive enhancements and SVG (or: How i stopped worrying and learned to love <tables/> )

Who scored when? How many saves did the goalkeeper make? How many shots on goal per a game did a player make? How many of those were successful? Statistics and graphics are a core feature of most sports coverage.

We experimented with a number of approaches for creating graphics for the World Cup. We explored NPR’s fork of ChartBuilder, for converting tabular data into SVG graphics with image fallbacks. We used DataWrapper, a tool that creates responsive graphics embedded via an iframe. Both tools work well for quickly creating one-off graphics.

But because of the tremendous range of devices used across our target market, we couldn’t be sure if (or how) the browsers would support Javascript, CSS or SVG. Ultimately we decided to create a custom solution, using D3.js and borrowing the progressive enhancements approach described by the Filament Group.

We started off by converting Opta’s XML data into a standard HTML table and sending that to the browser. This tabular view was a perfectly valid way of reading and exploring the data. (We actually relied on HTML tables for many basic design elements, because modern CSS techniques created inconsistent results across older, archaic and obscure devices.)

If the device supported Javascript, we could use that data to create a graphic (e.g. a simple bar graph). If the browser supported SVG graphics, we used D3 to bind the data and create the SVG.

I was really inspired by Ryan Pitts’ talk at NICAR 2014 on creating responsive graphics for censusreporter.org. The charting library we created creates responsive graphics based on the width of the browser. If the user resizes the browser, the graphics on the page will be resized.

Because D3 isn’t strictly an SVG-based tool, we could bind the data to almost any HTML element. If the browser didn’t support SVG, we attempted to create an alternate form of the graphic using a somewhat bastardize technique of drawing the bars and labels with an HTML table.

Two JPEG photos of Lionel Messi from VOA football, comparing download sizes.

Streamlining downloads

In addition to creating responsive graphics, we took several simple steps to optimize the site and reduce the overall page weight.

Adaptive images: We used a Javascript solution for downloading the appropriate sized images. The initial images that are downloaded with the page are low-res thumbnail images. If the browser supports Javascript, we check the browser size and then replace the initial image with an image tailored to the size of the window. For comparison, the desktop version of this photo is 156kb, while a 400-pixel mobile version is only 29kb. Multiplied for posts with multiple images, this optimization resulted in tremendous bandwidth savings.

Lazing loading videos: Most video players automatically download additional Javascript and CSS files whether you watch the video or not. We installed a WordPress plugin to add lazy loading support for YouTube videos. When the page initially loads, the plugin displays the YouTube thumbnail image of the video. The user taps or clicks on the image to load the Javascript, CSS and video. This results in a savings of 300 – 1000kb.

Animated GIFs: Those small, pixelated animated loops of cats can actually be fairly large files (particularly for clips created from video footage). We used a similar approach for animated GIFs as we used for video. For the initial page load the user downloads a tiny static JPG image. If the user taps on the image, jQuery replaces the .jpg with the animated .gif file.

In addition, we also tried to optimize the GIFs by simplifying the color palette, reducing the size and reducing dithering. In some instances, an MP4 video would result in a smaller file size than an animated GIF. And for some very simple animated graphics, we loaded the GIF directly without the need for user action.

Planning versus execution

By using a mixture of server- and client-side solutions, we tried to tailor the site to the technical and bandwidth needs of the audience. But the realities of producing a news site with a diverse group of journalists scattered across multiple newsrooms sometimes undermined those efforts.

Third party embeds of tweets, photos and large Storify iFrames, occasionally resulted in enormous, multimegabyte posts.

Future efforts will need to recognize the importance of continued training on best practices in coordination with any technological solutions.

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Relay Gets Two Major Functionality Upgrades, More Features On the Way http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/24/relay-gets-two-major-functionality-upgrades-more-features-on-the-way/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=relay-gets-two-major-functionality-upgrades-more-features-on-the-way http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/24/relay-gets-two-major-functionality-upgrades-more-features-on-the-way/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 16:09:48 +0000 Randy Abramson http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5948 Relay, the mobile-first, breaking news platform that was released by the Office of Digital and Design Innovation in December, 2013, has been upgraded with two major features:

1. Making Cards Sticky by ‘Pinning’
Previously, Relay displayed content in chronological order on a timeline at the bottom of the interface, with the first card on the left containing the most recent piece of content. However, we anticipated that users would soon request the ability to feature specific content and ensure that selected cards would be the first thing that users see when the Relay interface loads (similar to making content “sticky” on other platforms). With the new ‘pinning’ functionality, featured cards — that hold everything from live video streams to interviews — can be designated to display in the first slot of a card timeline.

2. Photo Card AutoGeneration
For our December, 2013 release, we were excited to offer journalists the ability to generate video, text, and Tweet cards directly from their mobile phone.  In our latest release, the new Photo Card AutoGeneration feature allows journalists to shoot photos on their phones and share them with Relay via Email. We are leveraging the Flickr platform and API for storage and image serving and the ‘Email to publish’ workflow is consistent with easy-to-learn video-Email process that received positive feedback from our field testers.

NASA GSM Launch

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

What’s Next?

The Relay team continues to prioritize enhancements based on BBG journalist feedback and also suggestions from NASA, who plans use Relay to cover the launch of the NASA-JAXA Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory on February 27, 2014. Features that we expect to release in the coming weeks include:

1. Easy Updates: The Easy Updates feature will allow us to publish new enhancements to existing Relay events without having to erase existing content.

2. Turn-key Language translation: Creating Relay instances for non-English language services is a fairly manual process. With some work, we can create sites in any language based off of a set of defined terms in Google spreadsheets or other cloud based document storage platforms.

3. Enhanced Alert Messaging: We’re re-working the flow and design for how users can sign up for Email alerts and will be rolling out SMS alerts in the coming weeks

4. SEO and Page Load Optimization: We’ll be re-architecting code to ensure that search engines can see our content and also provide for faster download times to mobile and desktop platforms

5. Audio Card Generation: We’ll be leveraging the SoundCloud API to allow journalists to record audio interviews from their mobile devices and publish that content to Relay

6. Designing For Multi-day/Multi-week Events: We are working with an information architect to design interfaces and user flows for events that go on for several days/weeks. We plan to make use of this new design for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

At the Yesterday and Today Beatles 50th Anniversary show in Washington, DC with Carolyn Presutti (donning Google Glass) and Jose Vega (center)

At the Yesterday and Today Beatles 50th Anniversary show in Washington, DC with Carolyn Presutti (donning Google Glass) and Jose Vega (center)

7. Continued Experimentation With Google Glass: Wearable technology is the shiny new toy that journalists are dreaming about for the collection and broadcast of on-the-ground content and Google Glass is the ‘must have’ gadget of the moment.

I joined VOA’s Carolyn Presutti and BBG’s Jose Vega to test Glass and to see how it would integrate with Relay at a tribute show for The Beatles in Washington, D.C. at the venue where they first played in the U.S., 50 years ago. Glass was able to transmit photos and video to Relay via Email, but, without some serious hacking to Glass, live video streaming is restricted to private Hangouts that can’t be embedded into Relay or other Web pages. We’re excited to monitor the evolution of Glass’ live broadcast functionality and see how it can be integrated into the set of Relay feature offerings.

What features would you like Relay to have? Mail Randy Abramson and let us know!

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Top Writing Tips for Journalists Writing to Video, Multimedia http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/14/top-writing-tips-for-journalists-writing-to-video-multimedia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=top-writing-tips-for-journalists-writing-to-video-multimedia http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/02/14/top-writing-tips-for-journalists-writing-to-video-multimedia/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 17:48:43 +0000 Erica Malouf http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5910 Have you ever watched a news segment or video and been completely and happily absorbed in the story? Or conversely, have you ever been so distracted by the choppy audio and unnecessary narration that you didn’t enjoy it?

As many a broadcast and multimedia journalists know, achieving “happily absorbed” is a skill and an art. But as with any kind of writing, we can study what the pros do.

I’ve adapted most of these tips from a webinar given by a master: Al Tompkins, Senior Faculty, Broadcast and Online at The Poynter Institute. (With some notes of my own.)

TOP TIPS

When writing to news videos, whether for broadcast or a digital platform, it’s important to keep your writing tight! As Al Tompkins says, ‘the biggest sin is wasting the time of the audience.’

#1
Understand Storytelling: Engaging stories usually follow a tried-and-true formula because…it works. I like to think that the basics of such formulas were figured out during the campfires of cavemen. Storytelling is a defining characteristic of humanity, and your audience is definitely familiar with common story structure even if they aren’t conscious of it. Generally speaking, the audience will like it when a story starts with conflict and ends with resolution.

#2
Pick a Formula: Tompkins recommends the “Hey! You, See, So” structure for news videos. Meaning, start with “Hey!” (the attention grabber), then “You” (the WIIFM—why this is relevant to the viewer), “See” (show evidence), and “So” (the point—what this is all about).

#3
Start Strong: For a news story, jump into the information—don’t waste time with a fluffy introduction. For a narrative, create tension right away.

#4
Remove Redundancies: When you’re editing the accompanying narrative to a video, Tompkins says to “train yourself to spot redundancies.” And cut sound bites that repeat what was said earlier.

PRO TIPS:

  • Ask yourself, ‘Do I need that word for people to understand?’
  • Read your sentences backward in order to catch superfluous words.

#5
Prioritize Video Over Narration: Use narration only for what cannot be shown in the video or told in sound bites and ambient audio. For example, if the video is a man walking down a dirt road, don’t waste time telling us “a man walks down a dirt road.” Instead, explain what can’t be understood from the visuals or audio but is critical to the story. Let the viewer figure some things out on their own.

#6
Use Sound Selectively: Sound—ambient noise and sound bites of people speaking—should not stop the action or cut into the narration in a choppy or jarring way. Tompkins says that “popcorn audio” (described as sound that comes from no where and stops the story for no good reason) is a fad in editing that should be forgotten because it’s distracting. When woven into the story carefully, sound can add credibility to the action and bring the viewer into the scene.

#7
Write the Facts: Narration should be almost all factual. Let the emotion and drama come through sound bites and visuals. I once had a professor tell me to “write flat to drama,” meaning let the action speak for itself and leave out subjective opinion.

#8
Review Grammar: Be judicious with adverbs—try to remove words that end in “ly” because often they are unnecessary opinion.  For example, in the phrase “she cried happily,” happily can be removed, especially if the video or the story indicates that she was clearly happy. Use more active verbs that clearly tell who and what did what.

PRO TIP:

  • I suggest reading the book, “Writing Tools,” by Roy Peter Clark, and “The Elements of Style” by Strunk and White, to brush up on grammar.

#9
Write for the Platform: Create the narration and edit each video based on the platform. Keep in mind that TV is still a passive experience (except for the second screen, meaning people using another device while watching TV). The Internet is about interactivity, plus know that people have shorter attention spans online and so are apt to bounce more quickly if a video isn’t interesting right away. (Try this free, journalist-friendly tool for creating interactive videos online called KettleCorn that our team at ODDI created.)

TRY IT

Watch this video about VOA’s use of Google Glass to record concert of a Beatles cover band. Do you hear any narration that could be cut because the visuals tell the story without it? What worked and didn’t work?

See more videos of the concert on the Relay platform.

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Creating Jon Stewart Moments with TV News Archive and KettleCorn http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/01/23/creating-jon-stewart-moments-with-tv-news-archive-and-kettlecorn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=creating-jon-stewart-moments-with-tv-news-archive-and-kettlecorn http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/01/23/creating-jon-stewart-moments-with-tv-news-archive-and-kettlecorn/#comments Thu, 23 Jan 2014 15:22:13 +0000 Brian Williamson http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5678 At MozFest 2013, ODDI unveiled KettleCorn, a customized version of Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker, a tool designed to help busy journalists quickly create interactive videos. MozFest is an amazing conference that brings together open-source developers, journalists, educators and activists. One of the most intriguing things that I saw at this year’s conference was the ability to pull video clips from the TV News Archive and edit them in Popcorn Maker.

The TV News Archive is a service provided by the Internet Archive. The site enables users to, “Search more than 516,000 U.S. broadcasts using closed captioning; Borrow broadcasts on DVDs; View and Cite short streamed clips; Compare and Contrast perspectives across networks, stations and time; and Place video quotes within your commentary.” (Here’s an interesting article from the New York Times on the goals of the Internet Archive.)

Last fall at MozFest, Tracey Jaquith (@tracey_pooh) unveiled a very cool new feature of the TV News Archive. After searching and finding a video, users can quote the clip and import it into a Popcorn Maker project.

“When Mozilla integrated Popcorn Maker with archive.org, we immediately knew that was a feature we wanted to integrate with KettleCorn,” said Joe Flowers, lead KettleCorn developer for ODDI. Our KettleCorn team got to work soon after returning home from the conference to make this function available.

The integration of TV News Archive with KettleCorn enables you to create Jon Stewart moments.

An obvious potential use of the integration is making one’s own ‘Jon Stewart moments’–on The Daily Show, video clips of a public figures contradicting themselves are strung together for humorous affect.

Watch the short video tutorial explaining how to integrate TV News Archive content into a KettleCorn project:



Interesting in learning how to create web-native videos using KettleCorn? I’ll be doing an intensive 3-hour session at the news:rewired conference in February.

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ODDI Demo Day Kicks Off the New Year http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/01/13/oddi-demo-day-kicks-off-the-new-year/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=oddi-demo-day-kicks-off-the-new-year http://www.innovation-series.com/2014/01/13/oddi-demo-day-kicks-off-the-new-year/#comments Mon, 13 Jan 2014 18:41:16 +0000 Erica Malouf http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5605 Friday marked the last demo day at ODDI in the current format. In the past, project owners (team leaders) have given demo day presentations in ODDI’s office with an occasional note from a team member. From here on out, the emphasis will be on having the team members take the lead in talking about their work, instead of the project owners.

In the past, stakeholders from within BBG have always been invited, but have rarely joined–it’s usually just ODDI staff who attend the Friday demos. Going forward, ODDI demo days will be centered around the stakeholder. Teams will schedule time with their various project stakeholders within BBG. The goal is to get internal customer feedback on a more regular basis as a part of our Agile, iterative approach.

ODDI scrum master Son Tran says that team-driven presentations provide team members with an opportunity to show that they are delivering on goals and owning the work they’ve done. He also notes it’s about the iterative process:  ”Closing the feedback loop and making it shorter is better for improving projects.”

What are we working on at ODDI?

For most teams, Sprint Zero was a time of research and planning, defining goals and determining KPIs. Adam Martin, our newly minted Director of Innovation, asked teams to come to the January 9 demo day “prepared to discuss their Charter as described in the Strategic White Paper, their shared vision in response to the Charter, the team’s goals, how they will measure their success against those goals, and their product(s) roadmap for Q2 of FY14 (and beyond if available).”

Now the teams are ready to see their brilliant ideas into fruition. And some teams are also managing ongoing projects like Relay, RIVR, the BBG-wide analytics roll out, and mobile app updates.

Here’s a look at what’s happening:

image mobileprez

Will Sullivan presents on the latest mobile app updates and the Symbian launch.

MOBILE TEAM

Project Owner: Will Sullivan

The Mobile Team is continuing develop, update and support the suite of umbrella news applications for all BBG entities, which supports more than 82 language services now, and has an install base of more than 400,000 users. We are launching new applications with Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Google Android and Apple IOS for both mobile and tablet form factors and just launched VOA’s Africa-focused Symbian application (the third largest mobile OS in the region, after Android and IOS, which we launched for VOA services last year). This quarter we will be updating the entire suite to a more magazine-style iPad design, building new Android home screen news widgets and moving the app analytics over to the shared Adobe Omniture SiteCatalyst system. We’re also beginning work on an live audio streaming and on-demand podcast Android and IOS application for the Middle East Broadcast Network’s Radio Sawa that is visually-rich with a touch-centered interaction experience and deep user-generated and social sharing integration.

AFFILIATE DIGITAL SERVICES TEAM

Project Owner: Doug Zabransky

The Affiliate Digital Services (ADS) team represents a new chapter for USIM and affiliate relationships. Existing and new BBG Affiliates will be offered up to three tiers of digital service. Each tier represents levels of digital-hosted offerings including live streaming, adaptive html 5 digital players, and an internet broadcast station which will allow for content source switching between BBG live and on-demand content, as well as other affiliate content within the ADS community. All tiers include customer service and support.

Essentially, BBG hopes to build a robust network of affiliate partner on-line stations. Growing the BBG affiliate digital audience will grow BBG’s audience as well.

DATA-DRIVEN INSIGHTS TEAM

Project Owner: Rebecca Shakespeare

The insights team is focusing on setting up tools that collect and present objective information about digital performance to inform BBG leadership and editorial about what is actually happening with their digital products and content. The team is currently focusing on the rollout of the new web analytics tool which measures digital properties owned and hosted by the BBG. It is also contracting outside validation of the numbers that are collected and reported to ensure accuracy of the information presented. Beginning in February 2014, the team will start to focus on displaying weekly performance analytics from BBG’s range of digital reporting tools, side-by-side in a dashboard, to present a complete picture of digital performance.

 

Screen shot 2014-01-13 at 12.30.53 PM

Brian Williamson’s illustrations illuminate the Storytelling Team’s vision

STORYTELLING TEAM

Project Owners: Steve Fuchs, Randy Abramson

The storytelling team is determined to revitalize and update USIM storytelling around the globe. We are brainstorming innovative ways to tell stories that inform, engage and connect with audiences based on their needs and expectations. One of our main goals is to build community engagement with younger audiences by using a toolbox of highly relevant, visual, trans-media storytelling techniques. We plan to not only count standard metrics–such as time spent, return visits, videos watched, social engagement, and so forth–but we also aim to make a real-world impact that affects conversation and behavior. Randy will continue to work on Relay, and the entire team will work on projects like finding innovative ways to cover sports in developing countries, among others.

Other Teams & Projects

In addition to the teams that demo’d last Friday, ODDI also has several other teams that are kicking A and taking names.

The Research & Analysis (R&A) team functions as support for all other teams. R&A was recently pivotal in helping the Storytelling team and the Affiliate Digital Services team determine their next projects. During Sprint Zero, the R&A team dug deep to find data on countries around the world, interviewing internal experts and BBG’s Regional Marketing Officers, diving into BBG research reports and library databases, and translating that data into insights and strategic recommendations. The R&A team includes Son Tran, Ashley Wellman, Yousef Kokcha, Ahran Lee and myself (Erica Malouf).

image RIVR screen

Ongoing Project: Doug Zabransky will continue to lead the IVR project called RIVR. Look for a blog post update to come soon.

ODDI also has various teams working on ebooks, UX testing and more. Follow the action here on the blog, on Twitter (@BBGinnovate) and on our new website portal (http://oddi.bbg.gov/).

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Rating Our First Relay Event http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/12/24/rating-our-first-relay-event/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rating-our-first-relay-event http://www.innovation-series.com/2013/12/24/rating-our-first-relay-event/#comments Tue, 24 Dec 2013 21:07:09 +0000 Randy Abramson http://www.innovation-series.com/?p=5437 Relay is a real-time, live-blogging platform that allows journalists to easily report breaking news and developing stories from their mobile devices (note: it was formerly called Beacon). Relay is still in beta, but its user-friendly interface and sleek design has already caught the eye of HuffPoPBS MediaShift, MediaBistro and Poynter. Here we’ll take a look at our first pilot event, conducted with the Voice of America Urdu team, and grade the results.

In late September, 2013, we outlined the guiding principles behind the development of Relay. After three months of design and development time, we were excited to take Relay out for a test run! Our supremely talented VOA Urdu digital team (Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and several Indian states) stepped forward for the first pilot project to cover the death of Nelson Mandela from inside Pakistan.

Relay Mourning Mandela pilot

This photo of Pakistanis mourning for Nelson Mandela was used in our first Relay pilot with the VOA Urdu team. The card that is being viewed is highlighted in white on the bottom timeline, and the icons on each card signify the type of media–photo, video, quote, producer note, poll, Twitter highlights, and so forth.

Publishing Workflow: B+

We successfully published video, text and photo reports, as well as LiveStream video reports and Google Hangouts–all from mobile devices. In this regard, the publishing workflow functioned as planned and was successful in allowing our journalists inside of Pakistan to ‘shoot, send and go.’ They could create their content quickly on mobile devices, email it to the Relay platform and continue with their reporting.

As smooth as the publishing workflow went, we did hit a couple of snags:

  • Title character limit was too low: 100 characters for English titles suffices most of the time, but Urdu titles tend to be longer. We’ll have to adjust the character limit for future Relay pilots.
  • Photo size limit was too small: We had a 2 MB photo limit size for incoming images. One photo that hit the system was larger, so we’ll need to increase this limit as well.

One of the most interesting learning experiences of the pilot came through the Google Hangout that we had with the Urdu team in Pakistan. The Hangout began as a video Hangout, but despite our reporters being hardwired to the Internet via ethernet, bandwidth fluctuated. We were very happy to see that the Hangout technology did not allow the presentation to stall — instead, the Hangout simply downgraded the experience to audio only. It was clear from this example that there were benefits to relying on best-in-class 3rd party broadcast tools like Hangouts when working with varying connection quality.

Customer Facing Front End and Responsiveness: B+

The user was able to swipe between cards on mobile devices and click through timeline items as planned. However, we did run into a couple of presentation bugs:

  • Video loses image: We noticed that if a user plays a video and did not click pause before moving to another card, the video did not display an image when they user came back to the original card. This is a high priority fix for the next release.
  • We found another bug where text runs over the timeline interface, but only on desktop display.
  • Interface adapted correctly on Apple and Android mobile devices, although Window phones were seeing the tablet layout.

Language: B+

  • Urdu language was presented as planned, although a couple of cards reverted to left to right alignment. This is a ‘must fix’ for our next Urdu pilot
  • One card needed to be edited due to character count limits. We spent a bit of time trying to grab all the right to left aligned copy from GMail.

relay-mandela-death-pakistan

Another photo of Pakistanis mourning for Nelson Mandela from the Relay pilot with the VOA Urdu team (photo from Reuters).

User Engagement: B+

Having users alerted about updates to the stories that they care about was a key function that we wanted to be part of Relay from the start. For this first release, we programmed in the ability for users to subscribe to updates via Email alerts. The functionality worked flawlessly in our Urdu pilot, but we would like to build in the ability to subscribe for updates through SMS alerts. Be on the lookout for that functionality soon! Also, we incorporated Disqus comments into Relay so that users can leave feedback about individual pieces of content.

Timeliness: A+

All in all, we were able to publish an entire Relay presentation including a live audio interview using the Google Hangout platform with and an in-studio video stand-up in under an hour. We couldn’t have been happier with the way the Urdu team demonstrated the amount of content that could be produced in real time while using tools they already had in their back pockets.

We shot a quick stand-up with Imran Siddiqui in the VOA studio and emailed it to the Relay platform for publishing, all within a couple of minutes


Next Steps

We are looking forward to working with VOA Music on broadcasting their Roots and Branches program using LiveStream and adding extra behind-the-scenes footage on the Relay Platform. We also have a 3 week test with our VOA Spanish group in mid-January. Equally as exciting is a request from the Davanac Journalism Lab in Belgium to use the Relay platform in an upcoming Master Class in February. We’re hoping to learn from these upcoming pilots and iterate on the platform to make it even better for future internal and external users of Relay.

Want more info about Relay? Contact Randy Abramson, Director of Audio/Video products at BBG.

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