Teaching Online Journalism

Straight outta Wisconsin

Madison.com is the Web site of the Wisconsin State Journal, in Madison, Wisconsin. I have to confess, I knew nothing about the newspaper until a few weeks ago, when I examined one of their very first multimedia packages, Hip Hop 101. I wasn’t very excited about the package, but on Friday night the Online News Association gave it first place in the “Outstanding Use of Digital Media” (smaller sites) category.

I met Ellen Foley, editor of the WSJ, at the ONA conference in Toronto last week. She signed up for my Flash beginners class. (Okay, how many editors do you know who would ever take a five-hour Flash class?) She pointed me to another package from the energetic crew at Madison.com: Seventeen Seasons of Number Four, about Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. In terms of design, it’s about 100 times better than Hip Hop 101. It’s mostly just a lot of static graphics bundled together in a Flash wrapper (with an inexplicably separate “QB game” that opens in a new window), but it’s clear and easy to use, and it makes an attractive tribute to a sports star.

Ellen explained that the State Journal hired an animator — Brent Bollenbach, a young man with an art school degree and no journalism background — and his Flash knowledge has blazed the trail for these new packages. Two other staff members are using Flash now, and maybe more are on the way.

Two weeks ago, Madison.com won a Silver award in the SNDies, the interactive awards from the Society of News Design, for Dangerous as It Is Beautiful, a multimedia story about Devil’s Lake State Park, a nearby lure for daredevil climbers.

I really admire the WSJ for letting the designers take the lead and brainstorm new projects and ideas for the Web site. (If only more newspapers were so supportive of new talent and innovation!) I hope they will soon adopt a few good practices:

The WSJ has a daily circulation of about 90,000 and is the second-largest newspaper in the state.

Categories: multimedia


  1. Brent says:

    Mindy, thank you for acknowledging all of our hard work. Thanks for the constructive criticism as well, it’s always welcome. I’d just like to add without the guidance of Laura Sparks and talent of Jason Klein the Wisconsin State Journal multimedia and graphics department would be a lonely, much less talented place. We’ve had an exciting, somewhat surprising, year and hope to keep that momentum going into the future. Please, vist our archive page and view some other pieces we’ve done.

    Brent Bollenbach

  2. Mindy says:

    Wow, I searched for a multimedia index page on your site for a LONG time, and I was not able to find it. Thanks for the URL. You guys have sure been busy!

  3. [...] presented as bulky supplements of the sort that drove Wisconsin State Journal editor Ellen Foley to Flash Camp? No doubt you can learn more about this exciting development in the paper on Thursday! V.O. may [...]

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