How the Brandon Sun tackles longform
Sitting on the web desk in the middle of the newsroom, I am constantly reminded of our tiny, but extremely talented team at the Sun.
On a regular day, I deal with almost everything that involves the web, but my role as both a product manager and newsroom developer is to listen for good ideas floating around the “Sungeon,” help bring structure to these casual discussions and guide potential ideas into fully-fledged projects.
Being a better listener in the newsroom and learning how to collaborate has been the key to helping bringing these projects to life. In many cases, these stories are self-driven and the success of our work over the last year and a half has allowed us to chase more of these longform features.
In the beginning, we set unrealistic two week deadlines, around the time it would take to ship a production-ready project, which included the time it would take to design, build, test and corral all of the project’s moving parts.
One of the challenges of working in a small newsroom is that on a normal day, I can be tasked with several duties — social programming, community management, homepage curation, which encompass my official title as “online co-ordinator” leaving a few hours, if any at all, to actually code.
It has taken many baby steps to ease the newsroom into this process, but some of the positives include a better understanding that projects often take months to complete, clearer project expectations and deadlines, frequent check-ins in-person and on Slack along with bi-weekly editorial meetings.
Reporters have also been tasked, on a rotating basis, to chase bigger, more ambitious stories that go well beyond the scope of our regular daily reporting in hopes that more collaboration in the newsroom will bring fresh ideas to their beats. These online versions of the story now dictate when the story should be expected to appear in print — and not the other way around.
The reception from our work online has been extremely positive and with each new iteration of our design, we are looking at adding more new and reusable components to our growing library and adjusting our front-end web development tools where we deem appropriate.
In developing these one-page sites, we have made some distinct editorial choices from our sister publication, the Winnipeg Free Press.
These choices give us the freedom to work in a front-end dev environment we are familiar with, instead of being forced into the constraints of our current Java-based content management system.
Currently, Gulp, Sass and Amazon S3 play a big part in our projects, but in the near future we are looking into using Jekyll, Bootstrap and Webpack to help scaffold our sites, along with developing our own style guide to create a more consistent and cohesive style in print and online.
For reporters new to this process, the work still left to be done well after their story was written was eye-opening.
Now, when talking about these projects our conversations range from iterative design to improving user experience and the best approaches to sharing our content online — and we admit we still have a long way to go.
During this yearlong process, I’ve become much better at jumping into the conversation earlier to get a head start on planning and also not being afraid to ask for what is needed as the project nears completion.
In doing so, we’ve been able to improve on our projects each time, beginning with “Breaking Faith”, “The Runaways” and culminating in “A Brother’s Secret” — the third and most polished version of the template.
Our next big project, a short documentary series will put the spotlight on western Manitoba’s veterans, who were recently awarded France’s highest honour for their sacrifices in Normandy during the Second World War.