Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our mega, collaborative digital package on holiday lights

Lights. Lights. Everywhere.

Call us the Griswolds of holiday lights reporting. 

Last year, I helped put together a comprehensive, award-winning, digital holiday lights package. 
This year, we decided to kick it up a notch, streamline our process and provide even better, more useful information to our readers. 

Who was involved: Aimee Heckel at the Boulder Daily Camera, Whitney Bryen at the Longmont Times-Call, Jessica Benes with the Loveland Reporter-Herald and Julie Baxter with the Broomfield Enterprise worked together as a regional reporting team, in an unprecedented effort to tackle this topic on a grand scale -- and save us all lots of time in the meanwhile. 

What we did: We used a new, free smartphone app, TrackMyTour, to produce a giant regional holiday map with HUNDREDS of points, all photographed and automatically plotted using smartphones onto an embeddable Google Map, thereby removing the need to enlist photographers, web designers and page designers for the first year ever. Talk about a time-saver.

You've really got to click on this map and zoom out to see the extent of our listings! You won't believe it. 

Working with readers: We also solicited reader submissions and photos, which we simply added to our map using latitude/longitude coordinates. We solicited submissions via the web, print, Twitter and social media (including a chat room for a local mom's group, which proved very helpful). We added comments to many of the photos to provide additional information to readers. 

But wait. There's more! Whitney wrote an excellent, newsy story about a popular local lights display that was destroyed by the Colorado floods. Julie wrote a second narrative about Broomfield's lights displays. Aimee created an interactive image using Prezi of one of Boulder County's biggest lights displays. And Jessica created an interactive image of one of Longmont's great displays using Thinglink. Yes, we used both of our favorite interactive image creators! 

In addition, photographer Paul Aiken put together a beautiful photo slideshow online. 

This mega package ran in all four newspapers and was wonderfully received by the community. 

Why this is better than last year: 
* We experimented with dozens of apps before settling on this one, which was quick, reliable, automated and easy to use. 
* The app we used last year did not create an automated Google Map; we had to plot the houses manually on Google Maps, which took hours. This year, all we had to do was click and embed. 
* Obviously, the regional listing provided a better service to readers who wanted to make a big night out of viewing lights. In fact, one reader emailed me to say she and her family rented a limo, made hot chocolate and drove up and down the Front Range following this map! 
* Although this package is much more comprehensive than anything we've ever created in the past, it was much LESS work for each individual reporter because we worked smartly and because we worked TOGETHER. This was a major lesson for us, and it sets a precedent for years to come. 
"If you shine, I shine." :) 
And we shined! 

I'm so proud of my team. 


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