The Best in Interactive Multimedia Journalism 2017: Pushing the Limits of Storytelling
2017 was quite the year, for better or for worse, and brought with it a wide range of incredible journalism. But it also was a prolific year for journalism that explored new realms in storytelling — whether it be through fine-tuned visual and interactive design, complex data visualizations, audio/video packages, and more than once even in the format of a game. This is a round-up of some of my favorite multimedia pieces from 2017, pieces that used innovative concepts to tell stories in a different way — oftentimes in a more creative, engaging, and better user-focused design manner. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it does indeed cover many of the best interactive multimedia pieces we saw this past year.
37 of the Best Interactive Multimedia Journalism Pieces in 2017
1. The Pessimist’s Guide to 2028 — Bloomberg News: Let’s start light and easy. Or something like that. This is Bloomberg’s take on some of the major stories of 2017 and where we might be in doomsday 2028. Lighthearted (I think?) and interactive, it’s design is ambitious and effective.
2. Trump Promise Tracker — Washington Post: A comprehensive data piece on Trump’s original pledges made during his campaign, with updates on whether he makes or breaks each goal. Its design is sleek, and the sorting/filtering capabilities make for ease of data digestion.
3. What #Eclipse2017 Looked Like Across the Country — Washington Post: One of my favorites. An excellent, effective piece of crowdsourced journalism. Using location data readily available on Instagram, Post reporters Lu and Emamdjomeh compiled it into a visually appealing and responsive map to show what the eclipse looked like across the country. The second map in the piece falls short in my opinion; it would be nice if the reader could see some of the photos at the position and time of the moving eclipse, rather than just the number of how many photos were being taken. I imagine this is difficult since time stamps of Instagram posts aren’t necessarily time stamps of the photos themselves, but doesn’t that make this entire second visualization a bit pointless? Other notable eclipse interactive reporting can be found here (The New York Times, less effective but perhaps more curated and still a fun design) and here (another more scientific, interactive explanation from the Post).
4. Emmy Awards Analysis: Live Chat — The New York Times: This is a live, by-the-minute analysis and reactions from Times theater critics. Sort of like a commentator-version of the Emmy’s, all online — like a curated Twitter feed, perhaps. The Times did this with the Tony Awards as well here (though it looks like they executed the visual design a bit better on the Emmy’s piece).
5. Inside the Taser — Reuters: Pretty complex 3D graphics explaining how tasers, a “less lethal” or “non-lethal” replacement for guns when law enforcement deals with uncooperative subjects, operate and function. Fascinating and in-depth piece about a topic I probably wouldn’t have otherwise clicked on.
6. Women Are Making the Best Rock Music Today — The New York Times: A seamless combination of audio, full-screen video, creative photos-within-photos layouts, and effective user-interaction horizontal story-scrolling. And generally just an artistic and edgy multimedia piece, particularly for The Times.
7. Good, Evil, Ugly, Beautiful: Help Us Make a ‘Game of Thrones’ Chart — The New York Times: The topic of this at first seemed to me, an unfortunately accomplished non-TV-non-movie-non-pop-culture connoisseur, unappealing and superficial. But it turned out to be a really cool concept and fascinating data piece. It’s essentially crowd-sourced data research, with sleek user interaction and solid data findings. Click the subtext underneath the chart to see data results if you don’t want to actually participate (no shame, that’s what I did!).
8. The Mars Desert Research Stations — RYOT: I really like RYOT. I’m excited to see where they’re headed in 2018. They’ve accomplished leaps and bounds in 360-degree video and VR in the past, and this piece is a combination of interactive graphics, a 360-degree video, and images. The layout is somehow a bit distracting to me, as it just seems a bit cheap (I think it has something to do with the typewriter font on the white background at full width that reminds me either of an old, templated Wordpress blog or an angsty Tumblr blog), but it’s otherwise quite a compelling piece.
9. No Bombs. No Guns. Just 90 Minutes of Soccer — The New York Times: This is a great story. And it’s really a unique multimedia design, even though it’s rather simple: all of the photos are little video snippets in the form of GIFs (that is, they automatically play, and you can’t control when you start and stop a video; it’s an automatic, looping moving image). This is effective and weirdly very impactful. I want to see more of this.
10. Antarctic Dispatches: Miles of Ice Collapsing Into the Sea — The New York Times (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3): It’s worth checking out all three pieces in this series, as each ties together unique and stunning visual elements. It reminded me a bit of this other multimedia piece in The Times about the ice melting in Greenland (here), though I think their reporting on the issue in 2015 was executed better in terms of multimedia elements (here).
11. The Uber Game—Financial Times: This is creative. It’s a game built from interviews, created both in order to make a point and tell a story; as such, it’s certainly a form of journalism, though unquestionably a very unique one—and unique in all the best ways. Definitely take a few moments to check this out. This is a form of journalism that seems would only be applicable in very specific situations, but this story was a prime example of what it’s good for.
12. Life Without Power — Washington Post: A compelling, complete multimedia package that allows the reader to effortlessly scroll through moving images, photos, video interviews, audio and text. (Nice to see this AAJA JCamp director Arelis Hernández on this byline!) I’ve always imagined a scrolling story with moving images, text, and photos to be the “classic” features-y multimedia package in the past couple of years; if that’s the case, this piece is an upgrade, the fine-tuned version of what that should be. This piece really effectively sheds light on the huge challenges facing Puerto Rico in a way standalone text couldn’t.
13. These Are the Droids You Are Looking For — Reuters: Something about this design—maybe it’s the gentle star-moving background or perhaps simply the general adherence to slick design while keeping with the Star Wars theme—makes this one of my favorite pieces, and I’m not even a Star Wars fanatic. The visuals are great, transitions are beautiful, and the chart is effective as it translates data in an easily-digestible manner.
14. The Trump Effect—Reuters: The design in this one, particularly the interactions when scrolling, are stunning. But they’re really not all that complex; it’s all a very simple piece. But the visual effects add a lot to the impact of the story.
15. LeBron James Scores 5,995th Playoff Point—The New York Times: The scroll-animated graph in this one made it particularly appealing to me; it forces the reader to really stay engaged with it. There is also a ton of data in this piece and chart upon chart at the end of the article… this is probably much more appealing to someone who keeps up with sports history better than I do.
16. LA Keeps Building Near Freeways, Even Though Living There Makes People Sick—Los Angeles Times: Ah, this one particularly piqued my interest because ever since I became too enveloped in an intense research paper last year about air pollution and its effects on health, I have been consequently traumatized by an overwhelming fear of breathing at least 90x a day. The interactive graphic under the subheading “How close to the freeway are you?” is particularly exemplary. Also noteworthy, on another note, is the end of the article: Los Angeles Times includes a “how we reported the story” section to bring journalism a bit closer to readers.
17. Operation Kill — Reuters: This is an effective combination of a scrolling, zoom map as well as a unique approach to a timeline—which thus keeps the reader really engaged in the timeline, step-by-step as the story unfolds. Timelines can be tricky to execute visually in a story, and I think it’s an interaction/design that will continue to be honed (this was one somewhat a simpler timeline, and thus the design choices were quite effective; more complex timelines could be trickier).
18. Polling on the President — Reuters: This is simply a really nice, comprehensive data piece; there’s nothing particularly unique about it except for this comprehensiveness and slickness in data visualizations. Each visualization has smooth transitions and ease-of-digestion, all while remaining fairly simple and to-the-point.
19. What Music do Americans Love the Most?—The New York Times: These ‘enter your zip code’ pieces are personalized just the right amount, bringing you back to your hometown and showcasing data specific to you. This piece was focused on top artists and a map of their popularity across the nation, something that’s really fascinating. However, I wish the ‘enter your zip code’ element would bring up a list of the top artists in your area rather than just a playlist for you to listen to as you browsed the article (though that was a nice touch).
20. Russia Hacking Timeline—The Washington Post: This is a stab at designing a really advanced timeline in an easily digestible manner, and it seems to be executed fairly well. It’s split into three columns of one timeline, with a ‘next revelation’ button to click through the timeline in addition to simply scrolling. It also links to all further articles and has additional hover-over information boxes as well, packing a lot of information into this piece. The awkward gaps of blank space in certain columns makes for a bit of a funky design, but I also can’t picture any better way to accomplish the goal while avoiding that.
21. How Ed Sheeran Made ‘Shape of You’ this Year’s Biggest Track—The New York Times: This reminded me of the Justin Bieber/Skrillex/Diplo video from 2015 (here), which was one of my favorites as it combined regular videomaking with a form of data visualizations. This piece with Ed Sheeran is similar.
22. Bombs in Your Backyard—ProPublica: As usual from ProPublica, an incredible data piece. This piece showcases comprehensive, nationwide data points on toxic waste from explosives — something shockingly more prevalent than I ever would’ve expected, made clear in the map. This too uses the ‘enter your zip code’ tactic. Additionally, clicking on data points bring up… you guessed it… more data.
23. Inside the Las Vegas Gunman’s Mandalay Bay Hotel Suite — The New York Times: This piece does well at showcasing the inside of the deadliest massacre in U.S. history. Related, also worth checking out is a timeline piece from The Times (here). Looking through coverage of the massacre, many of which were incredible written pieces and I admit were best as simply written pieces (one of my favorites is here), I was reminded of one of my absolute favorite interactive multimedia pieces from the Pulse massacre (a haunting one, here).
24. The Uninhabitable Village — The New York Times: This is another of the horizontal-scrolling multimedia template, but this one has such compelling visual imagery and storyline that it too deserves a spot on the list. I loved that it mixed in up-close interviews and quotes.
25. Europe’s Shift Right — Reuters: The ‘click to continue’ button seemed interesting to me at first, but I found that it kept me engaged with the graphs and data. Many of the graphs had beautiful visual transitions that would transform once the reader ‘clicked to continue,’ something that would be impossible without the ‘click to continue’ (though it could have definitely been a scroll; it’d be interesting to know why the designers found ‘clicking’ to be a more effective user experience).
26. Documenting Hate — ProPublica: In light of 2016’s presidential election, ProPublica found there were gaps in reporting and documenting data related to hate crimes. Thus, they began this project to attempt to create a database of hate crimes, allowing witnesses and victims to submit data as well as journalists and civil rights groups the ability to access this data. This is a hefty project with a hefty goal, certainly worth checking out.
27. Life in the Camps — Reuters: I liked the unique design choices here, where the text scrolled off to the side (rather than an overlay) and the maps remained in-position, while data elements changed on the map with each scroll. This is followed by a series of well-executed and visually appealing data visualizations.
28. Boko Haram’s Suicide Bomb — The New York Times: The visual elements of this piece, with portraits of the victims — never showing their full faces — tied with quotes is hauntingly beautiful. The interaction elements are equally as haunting, with their quotes dissipating into blackness as the reader scrolls through. This is tied in with regular text, shifting from a black background with visuals to a white background with text, to create a complete story package.
29. Trump Campaign’s Russian Ties: Who’s Involved — Washington Post: This piece begins with a sleekly-designed chord/network visualization, outlining relationships between both Trump administration and Russian administration. Clicking on each of these people, though, brings up more sleekly-designed data: hover-over information about specific ties as well as a timeline of events related to that person. This piece accomplishes a very logically-designed and exceptionally visually/interactionally-designed presentation of important data.
30. Love Story: Voicemails of Love From Around the World — CNN: This was a creative concept: CNN asked readers to leave voicemails of their love stories. The story included this audio (as well as transcripts), packaged together to create a heartwarming piece. The visual design fell a bit short for me (I think it’s the font), but the piece was overall a refreshing one.
31. 111 N.F.L. Brains. All But One Had CTE. — The New York Times: The simple visual element of this one is centered around the set of brains on both sides of the fairly thin width text in the middle. The number of brains are highlighted as the user scrolls through the story, hauntingly effective. (Some good news as of a few days ago: the NFL updated some safety protocols here. Here’s hoping 2018 brings more improvements in sports safety!)
32. Rethinking Rikers — The New York Times: This piece separates sections by using pull-quotes as headings, and sections tie in 360-degree videos. Simple design choices such as using white text on a black background (still in an easily-readable way) with larger pull-quote-heading styles makes for a visually appealing multimedia package.
33. Oscars — Reuters: I think this piece falls short in terms of execution, but it still went for some lofty goals as an interactive piece. The transitions are shockingly slow and patience-testing, and the visual element seems to be lacking (just look at the ‘year’ graph). But the overall concept and design is creative and artistic, and it packs a ton of data (the hover-over data is very well presented and digestible), hence worthy of a place on this list.
34. Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump — FiveThirtyEight: This documents a lot of data in a very visually presentable way, through a series of interactive charts. It’s almost like a beautifully presented spreadsheet, with color-tagged labels and digestible data, paired with interactive functions such as the chance to sort by any specific column or search the chart for data. Clicking on any specific row (a member of the House or Senate) brings up another page with more well-organized data on that person.
35. Two Weeks on Ice in McMurdo Station, Antarctica — The New York Times: This combination of audio, photo and video (again in this seemingly new horizontal-screen-changing format) tells the reader about a remote area in Antarctica. It’s visually appealing, but the one downfall is the audio tells the story and the subtitles only appear at the same pace as the audio — so it almost has the same downfall of a traditional video, in that the piece can only be digested at a certain pace (though of course not quite, because this piece is divided into sections).
36. Mount Agung Awakens — Reuters: This is a pretty detailed scroll-and-zoom map, packing a lot of information into a short article. The scrolling feels a bit clunky to me (it seems as though the text boxes are too far apart as well), but the piece overall seems an effective one.
37. How Big is the DMZ? — Washington Post: This is a similar scroll-and-zoom map, with added user features such as the ability to ‘click to rotate’ and explore the modeled map — explaining the demilitarized zone border separating North and South Korea.
Other Favorites to Check Out
Journalism is constantly evolving, and as the industry evolves, I’m certain journalists will continue to seek new methods to tell stories effectively. It’ll be exciting to see where the industry is headed in 2018. One of my favorite annual pieces is from Nieman Lab, “Predictions for Journalism 2018.” Certainly worth a read.
What were your favorite interactive, multimedia, or generally innovative and cutting-edge journalism pieces of 2017? This is in no way meant to be a comprehensive list; I’d love to see more. Comment below, tweet me @AnnieSchugart, or email me aschugart (at) college.harvard.edu. ✌️ Cheers to 2018 and pushing storytelling limits further!