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Teaching Online Journalism

Interactivity by design

I go through cycles of thinking about interactivity, what it means, and whether we need more of it on journalism Web sites.

When I think about interactivity, I separate it from interaction, or a person-to-person version of communication. I take a view that centers on human and computer, or what’s called human-computer interaction, when I think about this thing I refer to as “interactivity.” So this led me recently to a Web site promoting a book that’s supposed to be published in August: Designing for Interaction, by Dan Saffer. Looks good. Check out the table of contents.

If you’re in journalism, and you’re thinking, “Oh, no, I don’t need to get into THAT,” I have to tell you, I think you are dead wrong. Just read these ideas I cherry-picked from an excerpt of this book, and then think about how we could (and ought to) tell our journalism stories online:

Sounds possess many variables that can convey information …

How many of your reporters know how to gather and edit audio?

… objects that don’t move don’t interact.

Do you animate your graphics?

… interaction designers are very concerned with behavior: the way that products behave in response to the way that people behave. And all behavior is, in fact, motion: motion colored by attitude, culture, personality, and context….

Space provides a context for motion….

All interactions take place in a space….

All interactions take place over time….

Digital time is definitely not human time. Digital time is measured in milliseconds, a single one of which is considerably shorter than the blink of an eye….

Time creates rhythm….

I often think that we need to talk to our students about stories BEFORE we talk about writing. We spend a lot of time hammering the mechanics of writing into their heads — and that’s important, yes — but some of them don’t understand what a story is, or how to tell it.

An affordance is a property, or multiple properties, of an object that provides some indication of how to interact with that object or with a feature on that object. A chair has an affordance of sitting because of its shape. A button has an affordance of pushing because of its shape and the way it moves (or seemingly moves). The empty space in a cup is an affordance that tells us we could fill the cup with liquid. An affordance (or, technically, a perceived affordance) is contextual and cultural. You know you can push a button because you’ve pushed one before.

If you think that’s not about telling a story, then read it again. We need to understand that a game of chess or a game of Monopoly can be seen as a story (in a way), and a story about politics, or a crime, can be seen (in a way) as a game.

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