Great Ideas

Are we having fun yet? 3 ways to create engaging content

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Reprinted from GateHouse Newsroom

A lot of what we do in newsrooms is deadly serious and necessarily so. But anyone who has worked in a newsroom knows we need to have some fun to stay sane. Here are three delightful ideas to add interactive layers to stories and make them more meaningful to your readers:

Dog quiz

1. Test your readers' knowledge: In Gainesville, Fla., a University of Florida study revealed experts often misidentify mutts. This may have deadly consequences at animal shelters, when workers think a mixed-breed dog is part pit bull. The study tested dogs' DNA and compared the results to guesses from veterinarians and breeders. They didn't do too well.

Gainesville Sun mobile specialist Joe Byrnes came up with an interesting quiz that gave readers a chance to see if they could do better. Joe says Gainesville and neighboring Ocala are dog crazy, so the quiz was a hit. Give the quiz a try yourself, and think about quizzes to accompany your stories. Read Nicole Simmons' blog post to learn about how to use Qzzr.


Cape Cod authors2. Add a little sound: One of the lesser-known tools developed by the amazing folks at Northwestern University's Knight Lab allows you to add inline audio. So, as you're reading a quote from a 911 call, you can click on the words and you actually hear that bit of the call. Chilling. The tool, SoundCite, can be used to include ambient noise from an event or a clip of music.

Our friends at the Cape Cod Times decided to try the tool to allow authors to read excerpts of books to enhance their regular "BookScene" feature. Books page editor Gwenn Friss came up with the idea, and engagement editor Jason Kolnos helped with executing. They asked the authors to record a short reading and send it in. Talk about simple! And your readers can simulate the experience of bookstore readings, all from the comfort of their couches.

Budget Beard

3. Grow a beard: That may sound goofy, but the #BudgetBeard in Peoria is a serious reminder of Illinois' inability to pass a budget. Peoria Journal Star political reporter Chris Kaergard's last shave was May 31, according to the entertaining and information interactive timeline, using another of the Knight Lab tool's, Timeline. Click through and you'll see stories about missed deadlines, dire consequences, and interim measures to keep schools open and state workers paid. And throughout, we see the growth of Chris's beard, which starts at "Chia Pet" status and goes well beyond "Wolfman."

How does your newsroom have fun with interactive elements that help readers experience stories in new ways? Let me know at jhodges@gatehousemedia.com.

As senior director of content, Jean Hodges develops strategy and works with newsroom leaders on digital transformation, from newsroom structure to using analytics to inform news decisions. As journalists face myriad challenges, the best are experimenting with new ways to draw readers in, while fearlessly tackling watchdog reporting and sticking up for the underdog. Hey, there's hope for us yet.

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