1.Have points for easy addition of applicable audio and video elements
The explainers are tasked with telling what can be a very complicated story, and asking your audience to swim through a sea of text can lead to a discouraged reader. Some stories just lend themselves better to video or audio explanations. “The Giant Pool of Money” could not have been a text piece; instead, it wove in several elements that were easily digested through audio. And Common Craft shows us that simple videos can be used to explain complicated concepts. (Check out their video explaining cloud computing versus reading a Wikipedia article.)
At the same time, we need to make sure there are simple ways for the reporters or web producers to produce multimedia explainers. Asking someone to spend five hours in a Final Cut suite to put together the video might be a strain on reporter resources, and the newsroom might not even have great video or audio recording tools. It’s important to include in the explainer simple audio and video uploading tools — they could even be plugins for reporters to record podcast/vidcast elements right at their desks with minimum technology. Admittedly, it would help to have more knowledge of the client’s multimedia capabilities before building these tools.
I mentioned the importance of using multimedia to explain concepts, but it doesn’t stop at audio and video. Infographics are the rising star of journalism, but there are so many badly done ones that confuse the point or even can bring an entirely different idea from the data as it’s presented. I think using a tool — even one like IBM’s just-created Many Eyes — that allows the web producer to quickly enter the data given to them by a reporter and then curate it in a visually pleasing way. It’s especially important for stories where the data has been fed from a reporter to a web producer/data specialist, where they maybe understand the context of the data a little less, but still have to get information up in a timely manner.
2. Create something that can easily pull from like content on the site to populate “related stories”
Our client has the advantage of having an dearth of resources and explainers on many subjects, but being able to curate all that great information is the next step. A great explainer tool will help pull any related links, and even allow the reporter to rank them by relevance in the back end. And it will help organize all the related stuff already in existence on the client’s site, or even other websites that the client trusts and wants to pull content from.
Our client specified that they have three different audiences — the public, victims of the stories, and other reporters — and each of those audiences will have very different needs for explainers. I propose either having a questionnaire at the beginning of the story to gauge the level of knowledge, or to have a “dial system” included in the explainer where the user could customize how deep they wanted to drill with the information. For reporters, they’ll want to access more complicated information the story quickly, and not have to wade through simple facts, but the public may want something that starts of as gentle hand-holding as they are guided through the main elements of the story. The third group — the victims — may instead need links to resources on how they can get help, and we’ll have to decide if those should be embedded in the text, or created as a separate section of the explainer that can be reached through the opening “dials”. (I use dials as a placeholder term — this all depends on the explainer’s interface.) The most most important thing is to distinguish these different sections in branded terms that users will come to associate themselves with (and won’t seem demeaning). This leads into my final point…
4. A portable, recognizable brand that can be easily embedded as a whole, or in parts, on other websites
The brand is just as important as the explainer, and the partnership with our client makes portability a possible option, while still associating the brand with their website. Having pop-out elements that could be separately embedded by other news organizations, or an entire package that could be supplied to their pages, could be an important tool the explainer’s popularity, while still retaining the sovereignty of the brand. The audience knows they could find pieces on other news sites, but could find the whole explainer meal on the client’s page. It will probably involve creating a iconic symbol on the level with the Facebook thumbs up that people can associate with a strong brand of journalism, because at this point our client isn’t known as a news source outside of the news community, but they could be with the success of the explainer.