The next step after multimedia and interactivity? Just add data.

When I find myself face to screen with an online news site that is still in the Nightly Shovelware Posting stage, I think of two things: How can I add multimedia to this, and how can I add interactivity to this.

I think a lot of us go the same route, especially those with more background in photography or Web development than straight-ahead text reporting. We think: How can I make these pictures move, and how can I get readers involved in this story.

What we might miss in our efforts is the opportunity to take advantage of one more element the Web presents better than print:

Data.

Computer-assisted reporting has been around for years, but now here we are with tools like MySQL and Django and Google Maps and more. Each one of these things can be a thousand times more effective at building a story out of information than an Excel spreadsheet.

Matt Waite, a reporter with the St. Petersburg Times, posts this call for mashing up data with your multimedia and interactivity chops:

“Blogging and Flash and video skills will get you a job, no doubt, but they’re only one part of the web. Being able to present data along with your blogging, your Flash graphics, your videos, will have employers bidding for your services.”

As usual, there’s more to news on the Web than just posting pretty pictures. So the next time you wonder “What’s next?” after you add multimedia and interactive elements to a site — and if you ever think you’re finished adding those two things, congratulations — start looking for ways to integrate database work and analytical journalism. Your readers will thank you.

6 Replies to “The next step after multimedia and interactivity? Just add data.”

  1. Hey, thanks for reading. I’d even argue that at least starting out, MySQL and Django are nuclear flyswatters for beginners. If you’re reading this and are a real Flash maven and think you’re pretty good with it, try using Flash to access an XML document and present the data in the file. (Full disclosure: I have no clue how to do this. I’m a serious Flash noob, but I’m trying). Adding some custom data points to a Google map is a great way to present information, as long as you don’t let the maddening javascript learning curve get you down.

    Presenting data online doesn’t have to be this massive complex thing, though I’m neck deep in learning Django myself right now. But I sometimes think we overlook the simple for the ambitious to our peril.

  2. You are SO right about this, Ryan! And the real trick to doing it WELL will be in the presentation and the usability — two areas where most online news sites still need a lot of help.

  3. Is there a master’s degree or some such post-undergraduate program that might provide such training — a program that *isn’t* “computer science”? I already dabble in Google map mashups and I tool with Flash from now and then, but MySQL etc? Geekery. I need training.

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