#JournovationTour NYC Stop 1: The New York Times – Snow Fall

This is part of a five-part report on my summer #JournovationTour of innovative digital journalism outfits and startups. The first stop on my tour was The New York Times.

In April at ISOJ, I heard a talk about Snow Fall by New York Times graphic artist Hannah Fairfield, and I wanted to learn more about how that groundbreaking package was put together so that we as journalism educators can guide students in that direction. She connected me with sports graphics editor Joe Ward (pictured above) and programmer Jacky Myint, who did all of the Jquery programming that made it possible.

There are a lot of things about Snow Fall that make it an example of great digital journalism, but what struck me most was two things: 1) the way in which the interactive elements pull you through and, in the style of a good novel, remove the fatigue that sets in with some long-form pieces; and 2) the degree of integration between the text and interactive elements. You can see examples of both in the chapter, The Descent Begins.

As you scroll down the page, you eventually get to a graphic of a mountain. As each skiier’s experience is described in the story, the person’s name is highlighted and you see the skiier’s path down the mountain.

Being semi-tech myself, I asked Jacky how this was accomplished without relying on something like Flash. It turns out that she once specialized in ActionScript, which she learned while earning a Masters in Fine Arts from Parsons, but as Flash went out of style she refocused on HTML, CSS and JQuery. Many of the scroll-based effects in Snow Fall are coded in Jquery using the Reel.js plugin. Commonly used in advertisements, the Reel.js plugin is described as an alternative to Flash and Java for creating 360-degree object movies, vistas and panoramas.

I know that’s a lot of geekspeak. For what it’s worth, I’ve asked Jacky if she can provide some easy tips for journalists who aren’t hard-core programmers who want to create their own scroll-based events and stories like this. She hasn’t answered yet so I take that as a sign that I’m oversimplifying the question. In other words, to do something like this you really need to work side by side with an experienced JQuery programmer.

NYT Graphics editor Joe Ward showing the parallax scrolling features of Snow Fall.

NYT Graphics editor Joe Ward showing the parallax scrolling features of Snow Fall.

And that gets to the much more interesting and actionable takeaway. The reason Snow Fall is an integrated experience is because not a single word was written before an interdisciplinary team was brought together, according to Joe Ward. “Designers were brought in very early,” Ward told me. “John Branch interviewed everyone in the story, came back and said ‘we have a lot of good stuff here.’ We got together and agreed, ‘Let’s not make it a story with lots of multimedia options. Let’s make it as seamless as possible.’ ”

And that’s exactly what they did.

But there’s another interesting back story to what made that decision easier. There used to be three departments, Graphics, Multimedia and Interactive News, with overlapping focus, and they sometimes competed for attention and resources. After one department disappeared due to the departure of a team member, the programmer was suddenly working side by side with a 3D animator and the traditional organizational barriers to collaboration disappeared.

Putting internal collaboration ahead of competition is the key lesson from Snow Fall. As Ward said, “No one person on the team could have done this story. It required all of us.”

So you hear that, digital news editors? Get your disparate teams together at the beginning of a story, not the end. Maybe even combine departments or, at the very least, create interdisciplinary teams that are ready to jump on a big story from day one. Otherwise you will end up with something like this whimsical example from the Time’s Aaron Pilhofer of how Snow Fall would have looked without an integrated approach. Or you’ll produce a nice, but not very interactive, video like the Times’ Punched Out.

Those are my takeaways from the New York Times visit. Thank you to Joe Ward and Jacky Myint for taking time out of their busy schedules to talk with me. I know our students at Newhouse would love to hear more!

Professor Pacheco in the Press

2016 Mirror Awards Ceremony - YouTube

Comments:

  • Nonny de la Peña had this to say about Professor Pacheco after her acceptance of an I-3 Mirror Award.

    “Once the [Oculus] Facebook sale happened, $2 billion dollars, you’re not so nuts. But before that happened, a lot of people thought trying to do journalism in virtual reality was crazy...

Students, Faculty to Create Content for HoloLens Augmented Reality Headset

Comments:

  • Prof. Dan Pacheco has been accepted into the HoloLens developer program and will work with Newhouse students and faculty to create content for the device. - Dan Pacheco

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Immersive journalism: What virtual reality means for the future of storytelling and empathy-casting - TechRepublic

Comments:

  • Prof. Pacheco was interviewed by CBS Interactive's TechRepublic about using virtuality for journalism in the story: "Immersive journalism: What virtual reality means for the future of storytelling and empathy-casting." The piece also referenced Pacheco's Virtual Reality Storytelling course and included a link to a 360 video of the SU football team by class member and football player Eric Jackson...

http://storynext.gannett.com/state-of-vr.pdf

Comments:

  • Prof. Pacheco co-authored the primer on virtual reality in this report on The State of Virtual Reality in Journalism for Gannett and the Knight Foundation. - Dan Pacheco

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Daily Orange: Universities should embrace experiential media courses

Comments:

  • "There’s a virtual reality course being taught this semester in the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications called Virtual Reality Storytelling. (Full disclosure: I am taking the course right now. It’s awesome.) The course’s professor, Dan Pacheco, says demand for the course is high, and for good reason in that it may set you apart in a job interview...

StoryNEXT conference features virtual reality – Hypergrid Business

Comments:

  • Professor Pacheco has been added to the advisory board for StoryNEXT, a new annual conference focused on innovators in virtual reality storytelling. - Dan Pacheco

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Recent Breakthroughs In Virtual Reality Go Beyond Simply Playing Video Games | ThinkProgress

Comments:

  • "“The more difficult and complicated the subject, the more we seem to want to close the news app and open up Candy Crush,” said Daniel Pacheco, a journalism professor at Syracuse University who specializes in VR storytelling. “VR can counteract this tendency because of its ability make you feel physically present somewhere and to comprehend information by exploring it in an almost physical way...

The Des Moines Register wins Murrow award for Harvest of Change VR Project

Comments:

  • The Des Moines Register's Harvest of Change, which was the first project to incorporate virtual reality in a commercial news setting, has won a prestigious Edward R. Murrow award. This emerged from Professor Dan Pacheco working as an innovator in residence at Gannett Digital, where he brought an Oculus Rift and knowledge of how to create VR experiences in Unity...

HoloLens Brings 3D Media Into the Physical World

Comments:

  • Professor Pacheco reports on his experience with an extended HoloLens demo at the E3 conference and provides ideas on how it could be used in journalism and media. - Dan Pacheco

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"All the President's Avatars"

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  • Professor Pacheco is interviewed by a Swedish tech magazine about virtual reality journalism. - Dan Pacheco

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Adobe Adds Mixamo 3D Animation Service To Creative Cloud Mix | TechCrunch

Comments:

  • "Students in Pacheco’s VR Storytelling course (http://vrstorytelling.org), most of whom have no 3D modeling experience, use Mixamo to easily and inexpensively add interactive characters to scenes that are viewed in Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets" -

    Welcome to the Washing Machine

    Comments:

    • Prof. Pacheco predicts the future media-disrupting technologies for CommPRObiz: "Part of my job as the Peter Horvitz Chair in Journalism Innovation is to look on the horizon and identify trends that might lead the next waves of disruption. I also challenge my students to do field tests of disruptive technologies, then use what they learn to predict where things will be in another 5 years...

Our list of the best 11 journalism experiments

Comments:

  • Columbia Journalism Review just listed the "Harvest of Change” virtual reality journalism project that Professor Pacheco co-produced at Gannett as one of 11 noteworthy journalism experiments today. BDJ senior, now graduated, also contributed as a developer. -

    Virtual Reality Storytelling - From Screen to Beam : Documentary Campus e.V.

    Comments:

    • Creating Your First VR Experience
      Practical tips for getting started in VR using freely available software and 3D assets. Prof. Dan Pacheco will draw upon material from his Virtual Reality Storytelling class at the S.I. Newhouse School to provide practical steps for creating interactive scenes in Unity3D that can be exported for web and the Oculus Rift...

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