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To make information beautiful is to make it readable

Newsant - The Open Newsroom Project

Jordan McQueen
Open source is important because it can help give voices and presence to things that may have been neglected otherwise. It is a beautiful concept.   Hervé Verloes, Co-Founder, Newsant

 

Ever since the release of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Snow Fall: The Avalanche At Tunnel Creek” by the New York Times, we have seen a tremendous shift towards presenting news in a manner that both takes the reader on a storytelling journey and makes full use of interactive and responsive web design. This format is commonly referred to as longform storytelling and has been used effectively by a number of organisations such as The Washington Post, ESPN, The Guardian and Pitchfork.

Making longform projects requires significant resources - not only for video, photography, maps and interactive graphics, but also for the software development team to bring everything together. This was where we at Sourcefabric thought we could be of service. Through cooperative development with a former employee, we sought to develop a longform theme for our Newscoop content management system.

This, then, is how and why Sourcefabric made a first attempt at longform storytelling with Newsccop inspired by a story of microfinance.

View our most recent release of this longform theme, Storyteller for Newscoop. 

The Challenge

Hervé Verloes had an idea. He had an important story he wanted to share with the world, but needed a way to make it appealing and readable for the masses. As a former Sourcefabric employee, Hervé knew that Sourcefabric had the resources and knowledge to make it happen.

Through the company Hervé started, the Brussels-based Newsant, he applied for the “Innovation in Development Reporting” grant awarded by the European Journalism Centre. Out of 250 applications, his was 1 of 12 to be awarded this grant to develop an original, captivating and well-researched story on a global development topic.

Hervé quickly got started on the topic he had identified, a story about a microfinance institution called PAIDEK, based in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

After months of hard work conducting interviews, collecting photos and videos, Hervé and his team were ready to put their information together and into the Newscoop CMS. But part of the aim of the project was to “employ state of the art presentation methods and techniques of journalistic storytelling”. This is where Sourcefabric was able to provide expertise.

The Solution

The idea arose to develop a theme within Newscoop that would showcase the valuable information that Hervé and his team had uncovered and researched. A theme is a collection of functions - design, interaction, and logic - that work together with the CMS and the stories it serves to create a cohesive whole.

In this case, we developed a longform theme to meet all of Hervé’s requirements. The goal with this project was to enable writers to have a platform to tell stories that matter in a powerful interactive, multimedia environment that would engage readers far beyond the headlines. The programming was largely prepared in advance so that using it did not require additional coding.

We worked to provide Hervé with a single clean theme which would allow the content to be the central focus of the page and not distract readers with unnecessary design choices.

Full-screen multimedia delivery for today’s multiplatform web is a difficult task and one not undertaken lightly. With this project, we attempted to answer the most obvious and most asked questions that we identified as being a minimum viable product for longform journalism. Namely: full-screen images and slideshows, ambient sound, auto-playing videos, collages of text and images.

Results

Screenshot from Hervé’s project 'Kivu: dérives du microcrédit'

Hervé’s story, titled “Kivu: les dérives du microcrédit” (Kivu: The Outcomes of Microcredit), is currently available in French and Spanish. It’s about how micro-entrepreneurs defy difficult circumstances to launch businesses in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has been undermined by years of war. The constant threat of armed groups is one of many obstacles to their ambition; they must also learn to function in a competitive environment that is increasingly focused on performance which comes at the expense of the primary mission of microcredit. The project involves video interviews with entrepreneurs, slideshows and full-screen images, all prepared during Hervé’s visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The longform theme for Newscoop was developed by a group of 6 people at Sourcefabric, and it is designed to be reused and added to. A team of 16 at the New York Times built and contributed to “Snow Fall” over approximately 6-months, and while there is no argument that it is incredible, it’s also unattainable by other organisations.

The longform theme, by contrast, is open source and will be available as “Storyteller Theme” later this year. The aim with the longform story theme development was to provide users with the option of presenting their content in a free, open and captivating format. Hervé’s project served as the building blocks for our development.

The story that Hervé Verloes wrote was intended for a somewhat niche audience, but with the Storyteller theme available later this year, we hope that others take advantage of the opportunity to tell their longform stories more easily and quickly with Newscoop. This project will serve to enable small organisations and independent journalists to provide a new set of web experiences.

Sourcefabric was thrilled to be able to work with Hervé and his team as they demonstrated the commitment and passion to independent journalism that we so dearly aspire to enable people to showcase. Hervé came to us with an idea and we did all that was in our power to assist it in coming to fruition. We would love to do the same for you.

View the most recent release of Storyteller on our Newscoop page.

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