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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.