2016 was a busy year for interactive projects at The Seattle Times. According to our (very informal) spreadsheet, we did about 72 projects this year, about half of which were standalone. That number surprised me: at the start of the year, it felt like we were off to a slow start, but the final total isn't markedly lower than 2015, and some of those pieces were ambitious.
The big surprise of the year was Under Our Skin, a video project started by four young women in the newsroom and done almost completely under the radar. The videos themselves examine a dozen charged terms, particularly in a Seattle context, and there's a lot of smart little choices that the team made in this, such as the clever commenting prompts and the decision not to identify the respondents inline (so as not to invite pre-judgement). The editing is also fantastic. I pitched in a little on the video code and page development, and I've been working on the standalone versions for classroom use.
Perhaps the most fun projects to work on this year were with reporter Lynda Mapes, who covers environmental issues and tribal affairs for the Times. The Elwha: Roaring back to life report was a follow-up on an earlier, prize-winning look at one of the world's biggest dam removal projects, and I wrote up a brief how-to on its distinctive watercolor effects and animations. Lynda and I also teamed up to do a story on controversial emergency construction for the Wolverine fire, which involved digging through 60GB of governmental geospatial data and then figuring out how to present it to the reader in a clear, accessible fashion. I ended up re-using that approach, pairing it with SVG illustrations, for our ST3 guide.
SVG was a big emphasis for this year, actually. We re-used print assets to create a fleet of Boeing planes for our 100-year retrospective, output a network graph from Gephi to create a map of women in Seattle's art scene, and built a little hex map for a story on DEA funding for marijuana eradication. I also ended up using it to create year-end page banners that "drew" themselves, using Jake Archibald's animation technique. We also released three minimalist libraries for working with SVG: Savage Camera, Savage Image, and Savage Query. They're probably not anything special, but they work around the sharp edges of the elements with a minimal code footprint.
Finally, like much of the rest of the newsroom, our team got smaller this year. My colleague Audrey is headed to the New York Times to be a graphics editor. It's a tremendous next step, and we're very proud of her. But it will leave us trying to figure out how to do the same quality of digital work when we're down one newsroom developer. The first person to say that we just need to "do more with less" gets shipped to a non-existent foreign bureau.
It's been a busy few weeks, but I do at least have an article up on Source with an overview of my SRCCON session on creating more humane digital journalism.
The last thing I'd written about here was the paper's investigation into police shootings, so let's take this chance to wander through the rest of 2015.
In October, after a Seattle dentist shot Cecil the lion and made himself temporarily infamous, one of our reporters put in a records request for all historical animal imports into the USA. The resulting story involved querying through seven and a half million rows of data to find out what we import, and how Paul Allen's Initiative 1401 (which banned the resale of several species of animal trophies) would affect these imports (answer: hardly at all). We also got to do some fun visualizations for it.
In November, my teammate Audrey worked with the Seattle Sketcher to create a voiced history of Ravensdale, a boomtown destroyed after a mining accident. In general, audio slideshows aren't hugely successful online, but I think this one was a really pleasant experience, and analytics indicate that a lot of people listened to it.
Every year, during the Seahawks season, the paper does a series of "paper hawks" — foldable paper dolls for players on the team. The last one is blank, so people can put in their own faces. To make things interesting, I put together a paper hawk web app that could use a camera to take a picture of the reader, and do all the customization in the page (including changing skin tones and hair color), then print it out. This was interesting project in part because the API I used (getUserMedia) is restricted to HTTPS only in Chrome. To make it work, we moved all of our projects to secure domains, which was a great test case for encrypting additional content at the paper.
For MLK Day, my team revived the Seattle Times' tribute to the great man, which was originally published twenty years ago (and had been last updated in 2011). The new version is responsive and easier to update, so that each year we can add more information to it. It's fitting, of course, that the paper has a page just for Dr. King, since they were a major part of the campaign to rename King County in his honor back in 1995. It's pretty cool to keep that tradition going.
Finally, just this week, we published a Pacific NW Magazine story on modern dating, with an interactive "mini-documentary" that I built with our video team. Based on your answers, it generates a custom playlist from the interviews that we recorded. We were inspired by this great piece done by the Washington Post on "the N word." I really enjoyed putting the interactions and animation together, but honestly, most of the credit goes to our video team, and my work was just the window dressing.
These are just the major interactives, of course. All told, we built 84 projects of all sizes last year, not including various small pages built by the producers using our app template. That's a pretty good rate of production for a two-developer team. Here's to a busy 2016!
My review of Sonar is now up at Ars Technica. Technically, it's a review of the Studio edition, because I'm a cheapskate. But it's pretty comprehensive (7 pages) and includes lots of pictures, if that kind of thing is important to you.
The last article in the AudioFile series, Analog-to-Digital Conversion, is now up at Ars Technica. I'm starting work now on a Sonar review for Ars, but will otherwise probably only contribute journal entries or random articles.
Most of my contributions to Ars, including the AudioFiles, are also now available on my portfolio site, found in the sidebar.
My second AudioFile article, on the basics of MP3 compression, is now available at Ars Technica. I guess that means it's time to start calling electrical engineers for the next one...
My article on the Hero Rat program went up this morning over at Ars Technica, drawing heavily on my interview with founder Bart Weetjens, who was nice enough to put up with my mispronunciations of his name and the limitations of a Skype session in Tanzania. Good stuff.
I've sent them a guide on basic PCM audio already (perhaps too basic--I have my doubts as to its necessity, and if they don't take it I won't be insulted), and am roughly 50% done with the article on MP3 for laypeople. I'm grouping these together under the title "The AudioFile" (geddit?) and may add at least one more installment on HD formats to round the series out.
Also for Ars, next week I'll be covering the Future of Music Conference over at GWU (conveniently, only a few blocks from the Bank) and a Pandora Internet Radio meetup, which should be interesting. After that, I guess I'll have to start thinking of new articles.
Elsewhere in employment, I finished the second interview for a new full-time position with a news organization today, so I might finally be leaving WBI. Which I will miss, but will also be kind of nice: I'm getting a little tired of telling people "Real soon now!" when they ask when I'm leaving.
Ars Technica has posted the remaining two articles I wrote about UX Week. The first is mostly about Yahoo! Teachers. The second covers the OLPC Design Keynote, thus proving that I am not above reporting on initiatives I personally find distasteful.
I've got three short articles on UX Week 2007 going up on Ars Technica, the first of which has been posted. The rest will be published today, I hope, so keep an eye out.
I contributed two sections of Northern Virginia Magazine's "The Future Is Bright" article. My profiles of Debbie Goforth and Jessica Ray are on pages 88 and 91, respectively. Probably not worth a six-walk block in the rain to pick it up if you don't need the clippings for your files (i.e. me). As far as I can figure, NoVA did pay me for the drunk driving article, but has yet to run it.
Also, the Animal-Crossing-Meets-Marx got a mention in USA Today's Tech_Space blog. She writes: "... Animal Crossing, about which I've heard so much and about which Mile Zero posted so entertainingly last week." Entertaining? I thought I was just trying to fill the remaining 294 megs on my server!