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As online news changes, interactivity becomes more important

Jim Flaherty, Canada's federal finance minister at a press conference following a speech at a Canadian Club luncheon in Toronto on March 30 2012.

Fred Lum/Fred Lum/ The Globe and Mail

Online news is an evolving experience. You can enter a site such as www.globeandmail.com through the front door by using a bookmark or typing in a URL. When a story goes "viral," often it's because readers find it in search or share links on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites with their friends.

Watching @globeandmail references on Twitter, you see what type of stories garner the most attention. Let's take last week's federal budget coverage for example. Controversial columns or exclusive information jump to the top of the most-read lists. One very well-read and much-tweeted column was John Doyle's prescient column "Suck it up CBC. You should have seen this coming."

It had a strong point of view, but it also explained what was going to happen and why. That is classic good journalism. But we are also seeing other forms of journalism jump to the top of the reading list. Videos and interactive graphics, long seen as sidebars to the main event, have now taken centre stage themselves.

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We had three great examples of this evolving journalism recently with the budget infographic, a balance-the-budget game and an interactive graphic on the "sunshine" laws on Ontario civil servants' pay.

These graphics take a lot of time and effort.

Alisa Mamak was the lead artist on the budget graphic. Graphics editor Tonia Cowan said each slide represents a distillation of the budget and our reporting. "Some information is best-understood as a graphic. Stories that feature numbers ... are more efficiently displayed and more intuitive in graphic form." While the work was roughed out before the budget, an artist and reporter worked together to update the charts and as soon as the budget lockup ended, it was published as an interactive.

For the budget game, Report on Business editor Rob Gilroy spent hours poring over public finance documents and checking with economists and our reporters to ensure the accuracy of the interactive which was built by interactives designer Alisa Mamak and directed by multimedia editor Laura Blenkinsop.

Stephen Northfield, editor of globeandmail.com, said we learned a lot from these experiences. "People like to search for themselves information directly relevant to them and they like to put themselves inside the story, as in balancing the budget. [Both graphics]take readers from 'passive mode' to 'active.'"

The budget-balancing game teaches readers about making hard decisions, and illustrates the dilemmas the finance minister finds himself in. The interactivity is key to communicating an important point of the story.

If you have thoughts on this or anything else you read on globeandmail.com please send me an e-mail at publiceditor@globeandmail.com.

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About the Author
Public Editor

Sylvia Stead has been a reporter and editor at the Globe since 1975, after graduating from the University of Western Ontario in Journalism with a minor in Political Science. She won the Board of Governors Award there in 1974. As a reporter, Sylvia covered courts, education and Queen's Park. More

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