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Jan. 25, 2017, 6 a.m.
Reporting & Production

Frontline’s new interactive, annotated film can be shared in pieces on social media

“The challenge for journalists now is to show how we have done our work. The audience needs to have it at their fingertips so they don’t need to look too deeply for it — it’s right there for them.”

Frontline has worked to provide primary source materials around its films for years, but that’s mostly taken the form of additional documents and extended interviews on its website. But with its latest film, “Trump’s Road to the White House,” first aired Tuesday evening, Frontline is trying something new: an interactive, annotated script that audiences can use to navigate the film, and new software that lets users highlight portions of the film and share them on social media or via email.

“The need for journalistic transparency and credibility, for sharing our work, is more urgent and relevant than ever,” said Raney Aronson-Rath, Frontline’s executive producer. “We should have a way for the people come to our films understand what our source documents are, understand why we have chosen interviews, and actually go to interviews themselves and read the extended information. Now the technology is catching up to our dreams to actually present our reporting this way.” (Frontline had previously experimented with something like this on the iPad, but it’s now more accessible on a website.)

The project builds on work done by Phil Bennett, the former managing editor of The Washington Post and Frontline and now a professor at Duke and a Frontline producer. Bennett’s “Living History” team at Duke developed open-source software, a version of which is being used for the first time on “Trump’s Road to the White House,” that lets audiences follow annotations as they watch a film, or point to a specific part of the script and cue the video to it.

Bennett’s team at Duke has been working to find better ways to conduct and record interviews and then make them available to viewers. “Part of that research led us to explore how you can navigate audio and video by using text,” he said. The software that they developed with can also be used on podcasts — and in fact, in the spring, Frontline will be launching its first podcast series, and piloting this software on audio as well.

The interactive film will be hosted on Frontline’s website and will also work on mobile. Users can easily share portions of the film, complete with annotations, on Twitter, Facebook, and email. “It’s a way for audiences to curate this content, and a way for us to stand behind every little piece of what we’re doing,” Bennett said. When someone clicks through the shared link, they’re taken to the part of the video that was shared, but in the context of the actual full film itself, not just as a single component, so that they can continue to watch and explore if they want to.

“The challenge for journalists now is to show how we have done our work,” Aronson-Rath said. “The audience needs to have it at their fingertips so they don’t need to look too deeply for it — it’s right there for them. This is a way of opening up our filing cabinet, with coherence.”

Laura Hazard Owen is the editor of Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email (laura_owen@harvard.edu) or Twitter DM (@laurahazardowen).
POSTED     Jan. 25, 2017, 6 a.m.
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