Journalists working online could have the freedom to decide which format is better for their story, and they could experiment with Vines, Instagram videos or longform storytelling.
But deadlines and limited resources can get in the way in many newsrooms. At Mashable however, experimenting with new platforms and formats is almost a must, as their readers themselves are sure to be trying out the latest apps.
"We have an audience that is super interested in new platforms as they arrive... so if we experiment with those platforms they're usually there with us," said UK editor Blathnaid Healy speaking at #formatDEN in London yesterday.
Mashable has set up a 'collective' to explore new formats, a creative group born out of the organisation's visual storytelling team. The Mashable Collective works with all Mashable teams, from editorial to events – but they are not the only ones with a hand in the outlet's experiments.
"They also come from every journalist or every person that works within Mashable because that journalist can determine if they believe that this is the way a story should be told."
She shared some of the formats Mashable has been using across the organisation, focusing on those also used in the UK – video was omitted from the presentation as the UK office does not yet have a video team in place.
Lego Parliament and fanfiction politics
The UK general election in May saw plenty of data visualisations, interactive tools and tactical voting resources springing up in the media. Mashable decided not to chase daily updates form the campaign trail.
"That wouldn't work for our audience," explained Healy, "and people were doing that all over the place already." To stand out, the team had to come up with something different.
"We didn't have a swingometer, we didn't have a fancy graphics system but what we did have was a pile of lego."
And so 'Lego Parliament' was born, with the team building the parliament out of lego bricks as results came in.
The Lego Parliament video, one way the story was shared and told
Pictures of the Lego Parliament and accompanying article were then shared across social media and the outlet's live blogs, and you can see the experiment in progress on the night by scrolling through this timeline.
Mashable's audience is mostly "millennials and those who think like them", explained Healy, and one of the things readers have in common is an interest in Game of Thrones.
To complement their coverage of the UK election, Mashable partnered with Channel 4's Jon Snow, who has a namesake in Game of Thrones, to bring the fictional universe and the UK election together in an explainer "fanfiction" video.
Longform and visuals
"As much as they care about Game of Thrones they also care about a range of issues," said Healy of her audience, highlighting LGBT rights as one of these concerns.
Mashable experimented with longer articles ahead of the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage last month, telling the story of campaigning couples through a mix of full-screen images and text.
The outlet has also adopted historical photographs as a regular feature, integrating Chris Wilde's Retronaut into its offering.
While livestreaming in itself is nothing new, the popularity of Meerkat and Periscope has brought an additional element into the mix: audience participation.
This more social way of livestreaming, with apps that can act as a two-way communication channel between the livestreamer and the viewers, "keeps reporters on their toes".
Healy explained how those watching the Mashable livestream from Baltimore for example, didn't just get a sense of what was happening on the ground but could also ask the reporter questions if something in the report was unclear.
"The great thing about Periscope and Meerkat is the integration of the audience. They can throw anything at you and you can't avoid [it]," she said. "If you [do]... they just won't stick with you."
Note: #formatDEN was organised by the Digital Editors Network (DEN) and hosted at The Wall Street Journal's London offices. DEN meetings are generally under Chatham House rules. The quotes and information in this article are published with permission.
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