Remember when getting your daily dose of news meant waiting patiently 'til morning for a limited selection of stories in print? Interactivity in the context of newspapers was relegated to turning pages with ink-stained fingers. You could share the news with your friends…by clipping articles from whisper-thin paper and delivering them by hand.
Interactivity and social sharing have a very different meaning online. Increasingly, networks and publishers are inviting consumers not only to share in the information experience, but to get more out of it. Today, news reports come to us surrounded by a broad range of supplementary materials designed to enhance and engage. They might incorporate an infographic or a video. There could be a map or a photo gallery, audio, animation, 3D - something critical to the content, something to keep us interested. Occasionally, they'll be dynamic: a fully immersive experience. Among the more famous of these are ESPN's The Long, Strange Trip of Dock Ellis and The New York Times' Snow Fall.
Call them interactive or multimedia features, or forays into visual storytelling. Some say they distract from the reporting and make long-form stories hard to read. It's been argued that they can inflate a story's actual worth, like wrapping a trinket in expensive paper to make it appear more valuable than it is. On the flip side, our attention spans are shrinking. Sixty percent of Americans still read or watch the news daily, but just this week it was reported that our superficial mobile and Web scanning is hindering our ability to process information in-depth.
Research shows we frequently share stories without reading them first (we're in the Age of Skim; read about it here…if you don't drop off the page first). As an April Fools' Day prank, NPR posted a story called Why Doesn't America Read Anymore that had absolutely no content, just to prove a point about how many of use share and comment on stories they haven't read. If interactive features make narratives more interesting by infusing them with elements of multimedia and breaking them up into manageable, chapter-like bits, there's a good chance we'll read more news and become better informed. If consumers are choosing to get their news from digital media rather than print, why not leverage the medium in every possible way?
If you're interested in exploring this digital trend, you can find a great selection of last year's interactive features from The New York Times here. CNN recently posted a fascinating feature on the illegal wildlife trade, and The Guardian created one on climate change and its impact on the Great Barrier Reef.
Bring on the enhanced, visually-engaging news. It may just be the future of journalism.