Washington Post Grid debates

The Grid for the first presidential debate

Late in August the Washington Post unveiled The Grid, a new visual way in which it would present live updates on the Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention.

And just a few days ago, the platform was again used to provide readers with a stream of content relating to the presidential debate, including links to Washington Post content, as well as the wider social media conversation, Instagram pictures and video.

As part of an interview for a Journalism.co.uk podcast on visual journalism, executive producer for digital news Cory Haik said at the beginning the "big vision" for The Grid was to "aggregate social in a way that was meaningful, told stories that felt very visual and set the scene for the conventions themselves".

Overall the user would be given the clear feeling of a "live experience", she added, something the Washington Post is "very much focused on" at the moment.

Mobile-driven

The big vision effectively was to be able to aggregate social in a way that was meaningful, told stories that felt very visual and sort of set the scene for the conventions themselves and really gave the user a feel that it was a live experienceCory Haik, The Washington Post
Part of the original planning for the platform would be that it was a "mobile-source product", of use to those attending the conventions and keen to get a live feed of content on their mobile device.

So the Washington Post built it responsively, with the platform scaling in size based on the device it is accessed from.

"We were thinking in that mobile, in-the-moment experience," Haik said. "We were thinking 'should it be more like a conference app?' So taking that kind of approach, what's happening now, what's happening next, plan the moments out, because during the conference, or the convention, you very much had a scheduled day, video throughout the day, different people speaking, building up to that night, lots of social conversation around each element.

"We wanted to be able to capture that and present that in a way that felt like it was helpful to people who were on the ground but then also our users at large, how could they sort of follow along and get a feel for being there? And that just immediately translated into a very visual, waterfall stream kind of thing and it just grew from there."

She added that there has been "a lot of movement in that space".

"You've got Pinterest, RebelMouse, you get that feeling across different products and platforms right now, and we just came up with our own organically as we just were trying to envision how could we create something that works with a phone, that gave a live experience feel, more than just words."

Feeding the platform

Haik explained the process which went into feeding content into The Grid, which is "hand-moderated".

"Effectively we have a social editor and a couple of other producers and editors looking at lists that we've set up, from Twitter, from Instagram, from looking at the feeds of stuff coming in in our own CMS saying 'what are the latest videos?' 'what are the latest stories in politics?' and then actually moderating those things into The Grid.

"So we're hand-curating but in a very simple, production way."

She added that the team plans ahead of time. "So there's a lot of thought behind what those editors are looking at to actually put into The Grid."

Re-fashioning the platform for wider use


So far The Grid has been implemented for the conventions and was also run for the presidential debate. "Then we're figuring out how we'll actually use that on election night," Haik added.

"It's something that we're iterating on. We went out with a next gen ... for the debates, for the first presidential debate, adding a component that we're calling internally 'feel what?', where we're asking users how they feel about what they're watching at that moment and lets them respond every five seconds to say 'do you strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree?'. And then we're registering those data points in real-time, displaying that back out and then actually integrating that into other things as well."

As far as transferring this to more sort of daily storytelling or things that are less around a big event, we have to figure out how to refashion it, because it's an ephemeral thing, it keeps movingCory Haik, The Washington Post
She added that they will be looking at the potential of using The Grid for "different events", but for now the focus is on "trying to get the platform to feel stable and like we've kind of got this down now".

Haik thinks The Grid is working well for live events and the team is now thinking about how it can be re-fashioned for daily storytelling and how the stream content can be captured and even presented as a Storify.

Feedback so far

Haik said the response from the industry so far has been positive.

"I think it's been critically acclaimed, which has been nice. Recently at the Online News Association conference we got a lot of praise for it, which felt really good, from people that I feel are trying to do these same things or doing the same things, so that was a nice affirmation.

"Industry-wide I feel like it's recognised as something interesting and new, and we've got really good feedback from users saying that it's a nice way to follow, because it's a mobile-source product they can watch on their phones, they can do a second screen experience, they can watch video on their phone.

Haik also said analytics show that many of those who access The Grid are viewing on a mobile device, which "is nice sign for us that we did that the right way".

She added that in the Washington Post's newsroom "everybody feels really good about it" and they are now "figuring out how we use this as a new platform across the board for different sections and different things".
  • Hat tip to Storyful's Mark Little, who highlighted The Grid at this year's World Editors Forum conference in Kiev as an interesting case study in social news wires.

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