Posted on December 11, 2008
The role of Flash in a news organization (Part 1)
Inspired by Mark Luckie’s useful post about where to find the best in Flash journalism, coupled with the recent release of Flash CS4, I thought I might make a stab at discussing strategies for using Flash.
On Friday, one of our IT guys installed Flash CS4 on my Windows box at work. Whoa. Radically different! Adobe moved the TImeline and the Toolbox, and they changed the panel layouts. It’s like visiting a foreign country where they don’t use the Latin alphabet. Where’s this? Where’s that? Then I grabbed the paintbrush, chose a color, modified the brush, and painted a circle. Ah, same as it ever was. Converted the circle to a symbol. No problem. Tweened it — whoa! Tweening has changed!
For a brief overview of how Flash CS4 differs from all previous versions, see the Macworld review.
ActionScript 3 is still in force, and ActionScript 2 is still available as an option. So it’s not as radical as it might seem at first. A lot of the changes have to do with animation techniques.
In news organizations, Flash is frequently used to create an interface for a news package, or for a player (e.g., a video player). You don’t have to build a video player from scratch — you can use the excellent JW FLV Media Player. And there’s no need to build a slideshow player — you can use Soundslides (which was developed by a photojournalist, Joe Weiss).
Here are some examples of Flash interfaces for journalism packages:
- Silent Shame — Wisconsin State Journal
- The Girl in the Window — St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times
- Touching Evil — Pittsburgh (Pa.) Post-Gazette
Typically this kind of package bundles together (or integrates) several discrete elements such as videos, audio, maps, and animated graphics. The audience remains oriented by the consistent, persistent interface (buttons and other cues remain fixed and stable). Credits and background information are easy to find within the package itself. This kind of package differs from a mere player in that all its elements are part of the same story.
Another great use for Flash is to display interactive data visualizations, at which The New York Times excels:
- Can a President Tame the Business Cycle?
- Exit Polls – Election Results 2008
- The Ebb and Flow of Movies: Box Office Receipts 1986 — 2008
Similarly, Flash is great for animated and interactive graphics of all kinds:
- Architectural Monuments in a Reshaped Beijing (New York Times)
- How Much Is $700 Billion? (USA Today)
- University of Texas Supercomputer (Austin American-Statesman)
Or you can use Flash to make a simple infographic with rollover effects, like Web of Influence (New York Times), which shows affiliations of Chicago’s Gov. Rod Blagojevich. This is Flash 101 — the functionality here is as basic as can be.
Hm, this post is already a bit lengthy, and I didn’t get to the actual strategy part yet. I’ll do that tomorrow.