Video + Interactivity
The linear nature of video is one of its strengths. Press play, sit back, and let a well-produced film move you through time. For journalism, however, this can create challenges. How do you avoid sacrificing nuance for the sake of holding attention? What if a viewer wants to spend more time on a topic? For much of my career, I've explored how interactivity might create a richer experience.
Before Obamacare was implemented in 2013, I produced an explanatory video about how the law would change people's lives. I used a DSLR helmet-cam to create a first-person video that took the viewer through a "typical" day under the new law. We wanted to make the theoretical changes feel tangible by grounding them in scenes from real life.
Because I wanted viewers to be able to follow their curiosity about the parts of the new regime they were interested in — like how much a plan might cost — I partnered with an interactive video company to add an interactive layer. When there was a chance for the viewer to tap or click, an object would glow or an overlay would appear. The viewer might find a chart, an interactive calculator, or a video interview.
I wondered if adding interactivity would feel like an enhancement or just a gimmick. But we found that the average viewer used more than three of our interactive elements, and the average time spent on the project was longer than the main video itself. The piece received WSJ's first Emmy nomination.
I upped the ante several years later when Google was developing its Daydream VR platform. WSJ asked me to work on the video functionality of a WSJ VR app. Not satisfied to simply offer 360º video, I wanted to give viewers more control to explore our stories. We built functionality into our video player that allowed viewers to branch their story. They could explore locations or see extra scenes by pointing their controller at targets and going into new parts of the story. The WSJ VR app was chosen by Google as one of its launch apps on the new platform.
(Unfortunately, these pieces are no longer accessible online in their interactive forms. WSJ and Google ended support for the underlying platforms.)