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How newsrooms are experimenting with interactive video online

How newsrooms are experimenting with interactive video online

Margaret Looney | July 30, 2013

Watching online video once meant staring passively at a screen, but now that audience engagement is the goal, interactive video is gaining popularity.

The Wall Street Journal embraced the trend with this four-minute interactive video on how U.S. health care will change once the national Affordable Care Act takes effect.

Using a headcam, the reporter shoots video from the first person point of view. The viewer will see through the eyes of different characters -- a restaurant server, a bike messenger and an office worker -- revealing how the law will affect different people.

The video's producers weave in pop-up graphics, such as a breakdown of Americans without insurance by race, region or age and links to separate videos with the Wall Street Journal health policy editor, prompting viewers to follow up on the topics that matter most to them.

By employing a multilayered storytelling approach, the video producers bundled facts, engaging video and additional resources into one package, extending the reach of the typical video story.

"Particularly in news video, we are normally condensing incredibly complex issues into very short periods of time," Neal Mann, multimedia innovations editor at the Wall Street Journal, told journalism.co.uk. "What interactivity allows us to do is to really expand on that and allow the viewer to expand on areas where they may need some extra background detail."

The BBC created an interactive video about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the U.S. Gulf Coast. The 3-minute video follows the story of a local resident affected by the spill, with clickable hotspots that show footage of the leak, maps showing the spread of the oil, graphics on the effect on Gulf seafood and many more stats.

Users have adapted to interacting with their screens, surfing the web at the touch of a finger on tablets and mobile devices. And because the mentality of user experience and control has changed, the way journalists design video for the web needs to change as well.

"We need to redesign and rethink the way we produce video for the mobile and Internet age," Mann said. "Traditional methods that we have used in the past are designed to broadcast into people's homes and now people are engaging with us on different platforms, on the go."

BBC visual journalism editor Amanda Farnsworth explains in this podcast that different media require different styles of video. Whereas some journalists "slap bits of video that work on [TV] and put them on the web," online video is often better suited to first-person, shorter or more informal videos, Farnsworth said.

"[Web video] can obviously use the power of interactivity with the user," she said. In contrast, "television will always remain a kind of linear experience."

IJNet Editorial Assistant Margaret Looney writes about the latest media trends, reporting tools and journalism resources.

@margylooney

Image: screenshot of hotspots in WSJ video.