Interview Series: Matthew Halliday of The Deep

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At last year’s Digital Publishing Awards, The Deep took home the award for General Excellence in Digital Publishing, in the Small Publications category. Founded in Halifax in 2017, The Deep Magazine grew out of co-founders’ Matthew Halliday and Chelsea Murray’s desire to create a home for impactful long form journalism in Atlantic Canada. The publication has quickly carved out a niche of carefully researched and reported pieces that bring to light “stories that don’t otherwise get told,” as executive editor Halliday puts it. 

We called Halliday in Halifax to learn more about the story behind The Deep, the challenges and rewards of running a publication that focuses on one region, and what it was like to take home a DPA. 

Could you tell us a bit about how The Deep was founded?

I am the co-founder, along with my partner Chelsea. Chelsea and I met in Toronto as magazine stream students in the Ryerson Master of Journalism program. We were mutual fans of deep dive, narrative long-form. Then we became personal partners there. I’m from Alberta, and she’s from New Brunswick, and she wanted to move out east. So about five years ago we did that. We worked in communications jobs and did freelance work—I’m now a full-time freelance journalist, as well as executive editor of The Deep.

We came out here and realized, Toronto and southern Ontario are pretty well served, comparatively, by magazines, but there isn’t a robust magazine culture across Canada in different regions, necessarily. So we wanted to bring that deep dive narrative writing to the East Coast; to provide a place where writers who had the chops and the experience and the desire to do it, could do it and get paid decently to [write] here, about this region.

You know The Atavist Magazine—that was kind of the model to begin with, one big story a month. We started it up in partnership with The Coast magazine, which is the alt weekly here in Halifax—like the NOW Magazine of Halifax—they provided some in-kind support, some resources, mentorship, that kind of thing. It’s a partnership with them, but editorially independent. And rather than just covering the city here, we cover all four provinces. We launched with a Kickstarter in October 2016, and then spent the winter of 2016-2017 working away at our first crop of stories, and then launched last August.

The Deep Magazine cofounders Matthew Halliday, Executive Editor, and Chelsea Murray, Editor
The Deep Magazine co-founders, Matthew Halliday and Chelsea Murray

What do you feel are the specific challenges of operating this kind of publication with a regional focus, or specifically with a regional focus on Atlantic Canada? What makes it different from a publication that caters to the whole country?

It is a drawback and a strength, in a way, that we have a narrower audience. It’s a much smaller audience than a national publication would have— there are 2.5 million people in the Atlantic region.

This is a region that’s sort of off the editorial map of Canada. The Globe went several years without even having anyone here in the Atlantic bureau. It’s a place that doesn’t get covered a lot, and when it does get covered it’s often from a stereotypical kind of perspective. A lot of parachute journalism; a lot of reporting that plays off stereotypes of the place that are maybe outdated, or don’t reflect the way people live here.

We get to tell the stories that don’t get told otherwise. And readers here have really responded. So I think focusing on a region that’s off the map a bit actually is a strength, because people here are really hungry for that kind of thing.

Illustration of two shadowy figures walking away from a countryside home at night.
Illustration by Aziza Asat for The Deep, from Oscar Baker III’s story “A History of Violence”

Why do you think that might be the case, that this region gets sort of overlooked by other media?

Canadian media is highly concentrated in Toronto, and so there’s sort of a lack of awareness, often. I worked in Toronto media for years, and I know tons of people there, and I love them. I love the city, and I love the media and journalism community there. But nevertheless there is certainly sometimes a myopia that can develop when everybody’s in one place.

Even when people come from across the country, people develop that myopia sometimes. There’s sort of a lack of awareness, and a lack of interest in what’s going on elsewhere. Or the interest in what’s going on in that one part of the country gets conflated with national interests.

And then there’s the pure business case—it’s a smaller region. The GTA is three times the population of the entire Atlantic region, so there’s that as well.

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Photo of Labrador by Jennie Williams for The Deep, from Matthew Halliday’s recent story “Homeland.”

You mentioned that you’re also working freelance; what’s it like balancing that with full-time editorial work?

Very difficult [laughs]. I worked at St Mary’s University, which is one of the universities in the city here, doing a communications role with them, and I left that earlier this year to go full-time freelance, and it’s been a great choice. I’ve had a lot of luck and success and it’s been really good.

Part of the reason I did that was so I could spend more time on The Deep. I didn’t want to be balancing a nine to five office job with The Deep and freelance.

The Deep is basically run out of Chelsea’s and my attic in our house. It’s kind of: work all day and The Deep at night, sort of thing. There is no separation, really. It’s a lot of work. We do love the work though! To work with some of the best writers in the region, to develop these editorial relationships and this back and forth and process of revision that doesn’t really happen a lot… Working on a story for six or eight months—which is not something that I think a lot of writers here get a chance to do, unless they’re writing for an out of region publication—that’s really rewarding and fun.

What are the challenges of working on stories for such a long time? It must present some different challenges from pieces that have a fast turnaround.

Part of it is, you want to make sure you’re doing something that is timely. It’s the same challenge that anyone would have at any major magazine, where there’s six months or a year lead times. But specifically out here, a lot of writers haven’t done that, maybe. It’s new to a lot of writers. You’re going to be working on this for half a year, it’s going to require a whole bunch of revision—that’s not something that a lot of people have done, necessarily. That can be new.

But yeah, just making sure it’s a story that is going to be relevant when it’s finally published. Making sure no one else picks up on it. Then again, that is the benefit of working in a region that doesn’t kind of get the coverage it deserves: you don’t get scooped as much.

GE Small The Deep

You won the DPA for General Excellence in a small publication, and this is the award for a magazine that best fulfills its editorial mandate. I was wondering if you could say a bit about The Deep’s editorial mandate. What are its goals?

To tell those stories that don’t otherwise get told. In bullet form: to tell fascinating, entertaining, compelling, and important stories about this region that don’t otherwise get told. They don’t have to be East Coast-y in any particular way. The only stipulation is that there’s something that happened here, or that there’s some connection.

For example, we had a piece a few months ago—the writer [Oscar Baker III] is part Mi’kmaq, from the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick, and part African-American, and grew up in Florida. His piece was mostly set in Florida, and talked about growing up in that world; the tension between those two cultures that informed his upbringing. So that was mostly in the southeastern United States, but there was that Atlantic connection.

What was it like, the experience of winning the award? What did that mean for you and everyone that collaborates with you?

It was great. Our readership has been really good, we have strong readership, so we know that people are out there reading the magazine. But we’re in a bit of a bubble. Chelsea and I are just working in our attic most of the time, separated from the world. We see feedback—we see traffic on the site, and we see feedback online, and that’s all great. But it feels sort of depersonalized, kind of distant, out there. So to be recognized by our peers in the industry is fantastic.

To go back to Toronto and see a lot of the people we worked with at magazines there, and have them saying, “Hey, this is a great thing you’re doing.” To be recognized by the publishing and magazine world is really very gratifying. We’re not in it for the awards, but it definitely gives us a boost to let us know that people are out there paying attention, and we’re doing something worthwhile.


Cover illustration by Aziza Asat for The Deep Magazine, from Chelsea Murray’s story “Joe and the Whale.”

Interview conducted by Jill Blackmore Evans.

Submissions for the 2019 Digital Publishing Awards will open on January 2, 2019. Click here for everything you need to know about submitting an entry, and follow us on Twitter for the most up-to-date news. 

 

 

Interview Series: Denise Balkissoon and Hannah Sung

In this installment of our interview series, we catch up with Denise Balkissoon and Hannah Sung, the co-creators and co-hosts of “Colour Code,” a 2017 DPA-winning podcast. Episodes covered hate-crimes, race and real estate, “white fragility” and more.

Throughout the series, Denise and Hannah spoke with various guests from British-Sri Lankan musician and pop provocateur M.I.A. to Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, aiming to “crack the code” of talking about race in Canada. You can download the podcast or listen to it here.

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Can you describe how and when this project began and what it took for it to go from an idea to a fully formed and downloadable podcast?

Denise: In fall 2015, the Globe’s masthead put out a call for proposals for special projects, and Hannah approached me to pitch alongside her. I found podcasts an exciting and innovative format and suggested one about Canadian identity, which we made more specific to the topic of race. Our proposal was immediately accepted, and we launched our first episode in September 2016. In between there was reporting, wrangling Tim Moore as our sound producer, asking for more money and time, killing a few episodes, meeting a lot of very smart people.

Hannah: It wasn’t easy to juggle our jobs with this new project but we aligned ourselves with incredibly talented and hard-working people and made ourselves into a little team of five (Timothy Moore, Danielle Webb, Katrina Bolak, Denise and myself) along with the support of senior editors including Kevin Siu and some dedicated peer-listeners. Then we put our heads down and worked on it for pretty much all of 2016. 

What went into deciding what episodes were developed?

Denise: We had a very, very long list of interesting topics that we did initial research on. Final episodes had a combination of timeliness, interesting guests and compelling audio.

Hannah: The blueprint for the podcast came out of our original proposal. Topics didn’t change very much. There were a few that we proposed but didn’t follow through on and that was simply a matter of workload. 

What ideas didn’t make it into an episode?

Denise: I had wanted to do an episode on social media and digital life, but eventually we didn’t think it was specifically Canadian enough.

Hannah: The one I’ve always wanted to do, in any format, is about how the Internet shapes the way we talk to each other, including about race. I always compare how people talk to each other in a Twitter-spat versus what they’d have the nerve to say in person. I wonder about what’s good and what’s bad and why we are the way we are.

What was the most difficult episode to produce and why?

Denise: Probably the first episode, Race Card. As a non-Indigenous person, I thought it was an essential element of a Canada-specific podcast, but it’s also a huge topic area that I’m only beginning to approach as a journalist. The stakes were very high.

Hannah: The Sutton episode, which is called Surface Tension. It was about revisiting a hate crime called “nipper-tipping” (sorry, it’s extremely offensive, but I’m just going to use the word the local kids used when they targeted and assaulted Asian people who were fishing, shoving them in the water and taking their gear — it’s their word, not mine). This episode was more documentary-style, which was like holding many juggling balls in the air in your head at the same time or at least it was for me. But it was also the most satisfying.

We were never able to do what we set out to do, which was to have a face-to-face conversation with Trevor Middleton, a man who went to jail after one of these brawls that led to a car chase and accident that nearly killed someone and definitely tore lives apart. Trevor’s mother ended up calling me to curtly tell me to go away but my recorder wasn’t plugged into my phone so I had to relay that conversation in my script. Not a good moment. Don’t know that she would have given me permission to record anyway but still.

I met with the family of one of the victims in that accident, Shayne Berwick, and the way his entire family’s lives have been upended was difficult to hear, not to mention all the friends who were in the car that night, some of whom spoke to me, on and off the record. Besides the technical and narrative challenges, I was approaching this episode with an open attitude, holding it open so that if we ever met with Trevor, we could have a conversation in which I wasn’t coming from a place of judgment, just curiosity. And trust me, that was hard. 

Can you describe the most memorable moment you’ve taken from the process of producing the podcast?

Denise: It’s been really affirming to engage with such an enthusiastic audience. A mom told me that she and her 12 year old listened to the show together and then discussed race and racism in Canada. That’s amazing.

What did you learn about audio storytelling through this process?

Hannah: As my friend and amazing podcast producer Kasia Mychajlowycz said to me once, making a podcast is like making a TV show. Same amount of work and heavy-lifting, just without the pictures. That’s freeing in a way because the best pictures are the ones that exist in your mind, anyway. But it’s no less work. The range of what you can do in audio storytelling is pretty amazing. But talk-style podcasts are way easier to do.

Denise: Always carry spare batteries.

What did it mean for you to be recognized at the Digital Publishing Awards?

Denise: It was cool that all the nominees were podcasts by women. Podcasts are such a lovely format for intimate stories, it’s nice to see them get recognition.

Hannah: It’s nice to be recognized by your industry peers and I recognize that awards have currency in the workplace. But awards don’t mean much compared to feedback and the kind of comments and letters we got was next level. It was extremely gratifying to meet people and hear from those who connected with what we were doing and whose eyes were opened up to a new understanding of our own history and the way we are living today. People still have a problem talking about race, obviously. We need more conversations about race, not less, and with a higher degree of knowledge and less emotion. I hope the DPA for Colour Code showed other journalists that talking about race with intelligence and literacy is something we should be running toward, not away from.

What has changed in a year?

Denise: Discussions of race and racism have become more commonplace, but also much more contentious. These are difficult times, and I hope that Colour Code has given a few people a bit of a foundation to discuss these issues in Canada, where people still do have an Angel Complex, which was the term we used to refer to comparing this country to the US.

If there were to be a season two of Colour Code, what issues would you like to speak to?

Denise: Relations between racialized immigrants and Indigenous people.


Denise Balkissoon is a weekly Opinion columnist and a reporter in the Globe’s Toronto section. The National Magazine Award-winning writer is also a co-founder of The Ethnic Aisle, a blog about race and ethnicity in the Greater Toronto Area.

Hannah Sung is now at TVO in a new position overseeing digital video and podcasts. 

Interviews conducted by Stephanie Philp.


The nominees for 2018 will be announced on Thursday, April 26, 2018 at 10 AM EST. Follow us on Twitter @DPAwards for the most up-to-date news.

The Digital Publishing Awards soirée will celebrate the winners on Tuesday, May 29, 2018 in Toronto.

Interview Series: Fatima Syed and Carine Abouseif

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Carine Abouseif and Fatima Syed accepting their award at the 2017 DPA Soirée. Photo: Steven Goetz Storytelling.

In this instalment of our interview series, we catch up with Fatima Syed and Carine Abouseif, the co-creators of “Why Diversity,” a 2017 DPA-winning project. Throughout the creation of this project, Fatima and Carine talked with editors, reporters, and magazine leaders across the country who are examining, and attempting to remedy, the issue of diversity in Canadian journalism.

The result is an immersive, interactive feature that opens a space for conversation (you can join the conversation via Twitter, using #whydiversity) and calls for change in the newsroom.

The Ryerson Review of Journalism’s online special, “Why Diversity,” won Best Digital Initiative at the 2017 Digital Publishing Awards—congratulations! Pulling together this project was certainly a team effort, with two creators, an editor, a digital developer, designers, and 11 contributors credited for the win. Fatima and Carine, can you talk a bit about the collaboration process?

Fatima: We created this at the absolute peak of magazine production, so it’s a miracle that we published the project without any mistakes! While I worked on content creation, Carine oversaw the entire build, keeping tabs on everything. Together, we watched multimedia editors, Eternity Martis and Allison Baker, create visuals and video for us late at night; our fact-checkers, Erin Sylvester and Sydney Hamilton insisted that everything was verified and found an hour in everyone’s day to get it done; Lindsay Smith, our digital developer, exchanged emails with us at all times of the day; Jonah Brunet, our headline wizard, saved Carine and my brains from figuring out what to call every section; and Lauren McKeon stepped in on the last day to copy-edit one last time. Three days before publication, we had all these things happening at once. Good things are rarely created without some great teams, and we had the absolute best, who pulled this together in just over two weeks.

Carine: It was difficult because everyone on the team was also involved in other projects, writing their own stories and so on. So I think it’s very important to say that every single person on the team worked incredibly hard to balance all those responsibilities. I don’t want to speak for everyone, but I got a sense that a lot of people were invested in the conversations that we were having. One of the most memorable moments for me was seeing Fatima and Eternity discussing the introductory piece in the corner of the office, and workshopping it in writing on our big white board. I remember joining them, and that turning into a really passionate discussion about the issues we saw and found ourselves facing in the industry—conversations like that felt like a driving force for the project. diversity1

There are so many elements within this digital project: the interactive map alongside statements from various Canadian editors and editors-in-chief; a Youtube video on words that journalists get wrong; a list of links with the best journalism on diversity in the newsroom; voice clips from Ashante Infantry; and more. How did you decide on the placement of these elements within the project, and what was your process of organization like?

Carine: We started out wanting to build a completely interactive feature, so actually the idea to add bigger text pieces came later in the process. The format felt like the best way to get in as many voices and ideas as possible without the constraints of a traditional longform piece. The letters from the editors felt like a good secondary piece because it was a quick survey of how the decision makers in the industry were thinking about this topic, but then as you scroll down things get more intense like with the Paper Trolls piece, and then later you get to end with profiles of the people working hard to make change.

Fatima: We wanted it to be an immersive experience; a one-stop shop to get everyone’s brains thinking about the core of the problem. If readers recall, we added each element day by the day to literally “build” the conversation. Day 1 was the introduction by me and the snippets of conversations with Canadian editors (the full conversations are still in our google drive, and some were very long!)–a way to get all eyes and ears interested. Then we added new information everyday–the style guide, our podcast on Indigenous reporting, our list of Best Journalism on all diverse topics (which can seriously be updated with a whole ton of content now), and so on. I loved how Lindsay helped us design the page, because everyday, people would have to start at the beginning and go through all the old content to get to the new — an echo of what the conversation on diversity is like in some way.

In the above mentioned YouTube video, it’s noted that the “Ethnic Media and Diversity Style Guide” would be published in March. The text that prefaces the video—Fatima’s article “Out of Style”—mentions that “[t]he new diversity style guide’s effectiveness will depend on if and how it is used by newsrooms.” Since the guide’s publication, what changes (if any) have you noticed in Canadian reporting? Have journalists started to get more words right?

Carine: I think where I’ve seen the most change is in the effort. There seems to be more of an effort to try and get things right, an effort to listen to those who can offer a different perspective. That certainly doesn’t mean we’re getting everything right all the time, but it does feel like people are saying things like “I don’t know” or “maybe I’m not the right person to cover this” or “maybe we spend more time on this” a bit more these days.

Fatima: I think journalists have definitely become more cautious as the conversation on this has progressed and taken note. But, as noted in the piece on this, the conversation on diversity is ever-evolving and ever-changing, and we still need to carefully pay attention to it and double check everything, because mistakes do happen.

Fatima, your article “Paper Trolls” notes the transition from hate mail to online hate, which is “an unwritten tradition in journalism.” I’m wondering what the reaction to “Why Diversity” has been like? What types of conversations took place around the hashtag, #whydiversity?

Fatima: There were a lot of “me toos,” as expected, but, more surprisingly, there was some shock. The hate mail we featured was only the smallest insight into what people get, but it was so shocking. I remember the first time I shared it with everyone in our office; we put it all across our white board and stood there looking at it, completely horrified by the comments. And I got a bunch of messages expressing the same sentiment. “We didn’t know,” popped up a bunch too. And, unfortunately, since I’ve joined the industry myself, I now have my own collection to share, perhaps years from now.

The good thing is that people now talk about it, perhaps thanks to the advent of social media. At the same time, the frequency and nature of hate mail has also increased. I like to think #whydiversity helped spur more awareness of it.

diversity4How will the Ryerson Review of Journalism continue to talk about diversity in 2018? Does the publication have any upcoming digital projects in the works?

Fatima and Carine: Because it’s a student publication, the RRJ masthead changes annually. We hoped our legacy would help inspire the next round of journalists to think about digital as innovatively as possible, given the resources available to them. If there’s one thing we learned, its that people will listen if you have engaging, provocative, and honest conversations with them.

Lastly, what did winning a Digital Publishing Award mean to your digital team?

Carine: It felt incredibly rewarding. Like we said, everyone worked so, so hard on this, both in terms of execution, and in terms of the deep thought that went into approaching this subject and each element of the piece in a sensitive way. It felt great to know that the result of all those conversations was being heard and acknowledged.

Fatima: We had already won, even before the Digital Publishing Award. For over a month, the 20 of us on the masthead were having some of the most heated, most engaging, and most contentious discussions about diversity we’ll ever have in our life. We wanted to create an immersive project, and ended up immersing ourselves more than we ever expected. The award was a wonderful recognition of the issue and a recognition of the strong, careful way we had approached every facet of that issue we could of. It’s still a shock to recall some of the cheers and applause we received that day from some of the industry’s best people.

And to think, it all started with some hate tweets directed at me!


Fatima Syed is currently a reporter on the breaking news desk at the Toronto Star, focusing on diversity, social justice, and international issues. 

Carine Abouseif  is currently an editor at The Globe and Mail

Interview conducted by Leah Edwards. 

We are still accepting nominations for the Digital Publishing Leadership Award and Emerging Excellence Award until March 1, 2018. The nominees will be announced in April, and winners will be announced at the DPA Soirée on May 29.

 

Interview Series: Chris Purdy

I try and do something light once in a while to kind of get my soul in check a little bit and lift the mood. Also, people like news that is good and uplifting, because they need a break

For the latest installment of our interview series, we caught up with Chris Purdy, reporter for The Canadian Press. Chris won the gold medal for ‘Best Online Video: Feature’ at the 2017 Digital Publishing Awards for her piece Toddler With Paralysis. The story follows Evelyn Moore, a 13-month- old girl who is paralyzed below her arms as she zips around an indoor playground racetrack in a homemade wheelchair. We spoke with Chris about how she got the story and what made it such a special one to tell.

How did you come across Evelyn and her story?
A few TV stations in Edmonton had done a story about her. So, it had been out there locally. My boss had picked up on it and said: “you know this is really kind of great and we could do something really cool with this.” So I contacted the family and they were open to us doing the story, then we kind of went from there. I wanted to do something different than had been done before, I wanted to make it more visual. We thought the story was great on its own but knew that the visuals were really going to get people. Others had interviewed the family in their home, but I wanted to get her out to see what her life was like outside of the house.

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What was it like to have such a small child be the focus of a video?
She’s such a sweetheart. She was so easy to shoot! Seeing her triumph and to know what
she’d been through and what she can do now was just amazing. It was pretty easy to see that she was a happy kid. She just rolled around and I just had to follow her, and I had to get low because she’s so little. Getting low down to the ground was something kind of new to me, crawling around.

How was it different from the local coverage?
Two TV stations had the footage of Evelyn at the house just rolling around—and that’s amazing enough in itself. But I thought what can I do differently? Seeing her roll around the house, you could only have so many shots of her going around on the living room floor, and I did that as well at first. We did a pre-interview at the home but then we went to the play area together. I think just getting out of the house made the difference. I was surprised at the attention the story got!

What else were you working on?
Usually, often, I cover a lot of crime and court stories—a lot of tragedy basically. Today, I’m writing a story about a guy in Edmonton who was killed. He had a fatal peanut allergy and was working on a construction site where they were sandblasting with walnut shells and he died. Then sometimes I get to do these great stories, like Evelyn’s, and that’s maybe why I spent a lot of time on her story and why it was so great. It was so good to doing something like that for a change.

Is that what makes her story stand out?
I try to do something light once in a while to kind of get my soul in check a little bit and lift the mood. Also, people like news that is good and uplifting, because they need a break too. She’s just an amazing kid, so it just makes you feel good.

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What’s it like for you now being an award-winning videographer?
Isn’t that funny? I started as a newspaper reporter and worked in newspapers for a long time before I joined The Canadian Press. I really like shooting video, it’s fun. I have to give credit to all the great people who put it together because I don’t know how to do that.  Shetu Modi (the video producer) did a great job.

You can see Chris’s work at The Canadian Press website and follow her on Twitter at
@ChrisPurdyCP.

Interview conducted by Stephanie Philp, an intern with the National Media Awards Foundation. You can follow her on Twitter @msphilp.

You may submit digital content in our Digital Publishing Awards program, created specifically for Canadian digital publishers, for the 2018 Digital Publishing Awards. Submissions are being accepted from January 2 to February 2, 2018.

 

Interview: Chris Manza of the Globe and Mail

For the latest installment of our newly launched interview series, we caught up with Chris Manza, senior digital media designer & developer at The Globe and Mail.

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At last year’s inaugural Digital Publishing Awards, Chris Manza‘s contributions helped The Globe and Mail sweep the Best Multimedia Storytelling in a Single Feature category, winning both Gold and Silver for their features The Taken and Bad Dream, respectively. Chris also helped his team win a Silver award for Best Visual Storytelling, for their feature How to Survive at the Very Edge of Nowhere: Life at CFS Alert.

In this interview, Chris shares insights and experiences from the digital publishing front, pulled from over 10 years experience at The Globe and Mail.

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Digital Publishing Awards:
You’ve been with The Globe and Mail for over 10 years now. You’ve seen firsthand how “traditional” Canadian media can transition from a daily print newspaper, to a choice destination for digital media consumers. Can you talk a bit about this transition, and more specifically, your role in it?

Chris: Our industry has made sizeable advancements in the transition to digital over the last 10 years. For the most part, the days of using digital media to simply duplicate or ‘dress-up’ traditional print stories are mostly behind us, although I do still see some room for improvement in the industry in general. Understandably, a deep history of print-centric traditions has been tough to break.

Ten years ago, our digital teams worked primarily out of their own separate office, disconnected from the rest of the newsroom. Since then, we’ve seen a transition from a traditional print-centric newsroom to one that is now fully integrated, mixing cross-platform expertise in reporting, design, development, data, social, video, UX,
analytics and more.computers

We’ve had to re-platform our core technology infrastructure to support the digital transition and make workflow and cultural changes to become an audience-first newsroom, regardless of the platform we distribute our content on. Digital media consumers have also gone mobile, so we’ve needed to shift the distribution of our content to ensure it’s reaching the right audience at the right time.

Our earliest ‘digital first’ interactive feature wins (e.g. Talking to the Taliban) set the groundwork for what could be achieved with emerging digital storytelling formats. My role specifically in interactive storytelling design, development and production has allowed us to continually experiment, learn and adapt to the changing media landscape. I’ve seen technologies and techniques come and go over the years, but the end goal has never changed. Deliver the strongest content and experiences that matter most to readers regardless of their desired platform. This has been one of the keys to our transition.

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Today’s digital media consumers have more choice over when, where and how they consume media. Having a brilliant team who understands this has been instrumental to the incredible progress The Globe has made in digital over the last decade.

DPAs: It’s no secret that the way people consume news has changed drastically over the past decade. More and more news outlets are instituting digitally native strategies to augment the impact of stories, including animated and interactive graphics, powerful audiovisual tools, and responsive design. Why do you think it’s important to engage audiences with this kind of multifaceted digital storytelling?

Chris: The answer is rather simple, visual storytelling evokes emotion and connects with the reader. We have the ability to immerse readers in new ways that work within the context of our stories. We know that stories can be told effectively through various methods beyond just words. Visual-first journalism keeps readers coming back.

It’s now more important than ever to engage digital audiences as we compete for their attention from other technology distractions. We use our digital storytelling tools and techniques to drive impact on the smallest screens first to support the increasing mobile audience who consume media in new ways.

To be most effective, successful approaches to digital storytelling are constructed from the ground up as digital-first experiences. We can’t simply reproduce or dress-up traditional print stories for the web. Building engagement comes from formulating a digital strategy that works to support how, when and where our content is consumed and by taking advantage of visual storytelling techniques that best suit the content.

News organizations must commit to digital native strategies to satisfy the needs of their growing digital audience. Having a deep and instinctive understanding of who that target audience is allows us to build loyalty and engagement. Aside from the more obvious drivers of engagement digital storytelling provides, we need to enforce continuous innovation in our industry to constantly learn and improve how we deliver our content.

DPAs: Every Globe digital feature has its own strategy, its own look and feel, and different digital elements. A couple that come to mind: the story of John Nolan, diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and the interactive piece “Crossing the line” a chronicle of Mexico’s drug war. Both take very different approaches— what’s your creative process when it comes to telling a new story?

Chris: We constantly experiment with new methods of digital storytelling across all platforms. Each story is an opportunity to explore new unique approaches and develop the skills necessary to understand how our content is consumed. We put a lot of emphasis on design and usability to increase engagement and enhance the overall reading experience.

All of our digital features start with strong content. Content has always been the foundation of all of our features and we’re very selective in taking on new projects that we feel would connect with our readers and provide a strong digital presence.

The creative process often involves working with a multimedia editor to conceptualize the feature. Early discussions with the assigned reporters allow us to explore the proposed content and provide feedback and guidance that might direct the reporting to meet any digital storytelling strategies defined by myself or the multimedia editor.

We’ll determine what type of digital treatment would best suit each feature. Will it be a traditional long read or visual-first feature? Can visual elements do most of the storytelling heavy lifting? What type of interactivity will be required?

I’ll often sketch basic wireframes to get a general feel for how the feature will flow. Early on in the creative process, I’ll devote time to design and user experience. Depending on the project, a good portion of the design process might be achieved through coding functional mockups instead of taking a more traditional approach with flat static mockups. Mocking up designs and prototypes with code offers a much more accurate representation of how elements will render within various browsers and gives a better sense of the overall user experience.

The creative process for our No Safe Use feature can be used as a great example of a typical workflow. The project contained numerous multimedia elements including photo, video, audio, graphics and interactive charts.

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The early creative process for No Safe Use included conceptualizing the ‘top’ lead element of the feature. I wanted to experiment with connecting to our readers through the eyes of our subject, John Nolan. John had an important story to share, and I proposed the use of a very tightly cropped image (video on desktop computers) of John to immediately draw the reader in. The technique proved to be both very effective and unique.

We knew early on that No Safe Use was going to be a long read feature, so the design needed to accommodate a lot of text. My early concepts included logical breaks between sections to help break up the content and provide visual cues to help guide the reader through each section.

Data was an important asset to the storytelling, so I designed interactive charts that allowed readers to visualize various datasets by multiple criteria. We often make editorial decisions to highlight specific data as part of our narrative, but one of the benefits of digital presentation is giving readers the ability to explore the full dataset on their own.

Throughout the creative process, a live link to the feature in development is shared with the team. Reporters and editors can see the work in progress to ensure we’re heading in the right direction and provide any feedback.

Many of our features become unique instances of digital storytelling, but each share some similarities in their creative process. All are beneficial in allowing us to continuously learn and experiment.

DPAs: At last year’s inaugural Digital Publishing Awards, you won two Gold awards and a Silver for interactive stories in The Globe and Mail. How does recognition— from the DPAs and other organizations— impact you and the work that you do?

Chris: Industry recognition is certainly welcome, but one of the biggest benefits to receiving any recognition is the potential to have your work shared with a wider audience that might not have previously come across your work.

Aside from recognition within the news industry itself, any recognition from our readers or organizations outside of our industry heavily impacts the work that I do. It validates all of the reasons why original journalism matters.


Follow Chris on Twitter @CManza and The Globe and Mail @globeandmail.

This interview was conducted by Krista Robinson of the Digital Publishing Awards. Stay tuned—nominations for the 2017 DPA Awards will be announced next Tuesday.