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Stories we’re talking about this week

March 7, 2017

Every two weeks, the Storytelling Studio hosts an open meeting where we share story inspiration. We read or watch published stories (by Vox Media or elsewhere), and spend an hour with teammates and other colleagues discussing each. Spoiler alert: we don’t always agree!

This meeting is separate from our project-specific design reviews, and might cover everything from written content and visual design, to user experience and data analysis. Here’s a sampling of what we reviewed this week.


The Empathy Layer, The Verge

Earlier this month, The Verge published a story about Koko, a messaging app that offers peer-to-peer support. Frank Bi, The Verge’s editorial engineer, walked through his work on the embedded interactive in the story and asked for feedback from the group. What we shared with Frank:

  • The lead illustration is the perfect introduction to the story, accurately signaling the tone and content of the story.
  • The interaction of the chatbot in the story helped us understand the story concept.
  • When scrolling to the interactive, its slow to start and may not hold the audiences attention. Would it be better to show the full conversation instead of forcing the audience to wait?
  • Subheads! They may have helped the reader navigate through the narrative.

L.A. keeps building near freeways, even though living there makes people sick, LA Times

Studio engineer Casey Miller shared this story with the group, which is loaded with graphics, maps, videos, and photos. What we thought:

  • On desktop, the map graphic without scroll to touch is nice — getting stuck in a map because scrolling zooms you in is never fun.
  • On small breakpoints, breaking out the graphic into an overlay helps contain the experience so it can’t be easily scrolled past. For a smaller screen application, this is clever to keep the interactions focused and controlled.
  • Several participants in the meeting were curious about whether this story lived anywhere beyond the web and in print. We talked about what this might look like on Facebook, or YouTube.
  • The explanation of the data, as well as the added links to it are great — you can find direct download links to their data files at the end of the story.

Explore your life in history, The Atlantic

After entering your birthday, you are presented with a specific timeline of events that correspond to your lifetime. How we responded:

  • Even though the content is not inherently personal — it’s general events in history — the timeline clearly makes each point about the reader. By changing wording and using “you,” the history feels customized to the reader.
  • This is a great way to utilize the extensive archive that The Atlantic has. It’s clever to leverage a history of existing content and remix it into a new story. This sparked conversation about new ways we can leverage existing content to tell new stories.

Crime in Context, The Marshall Project

This story explores violent crime in the US and is updated when new data is published. What we thought:

  • The opening interactive displays a lot of data, but tells a story with its headline. Instead of simply presenting a huge dataset that is hard to process, the data is integrated with stories and context around the much larger issue of crime trends in the US.
  • Showcasing charts with photographs is a really smart way to ground the audience in the location, and give them a sense of place.
  • Having the data open-sourced is great, too.

What stories are you talking about this week?