Critique: Immersive/Interactive Journalism


Sound Ecology: a web documentary on noise pollution and our inability to endure silence – http://soundecology.nfb.ca/

The National Film Board of Canada created this immersive and interactive online experience using simple animations and layered graphics to communicate facts and stories about sound in our daily environments.

The user clicks through a series of four different environmental experiences, navigating back or forward through specific issues or locations within those environments. A reactive decibel meter remains at the bottom of the screen throughout, showing the reader how loud a certain sound is in numerical and visual comparison to others. This meter also contains additional facts about the topic. The reader can choose to learn more about a topic or pass it by, or even return to it later. Sometimes readers can choose to turn sounds on or off based on the situation presented to them. The layered and animated visuals round out the ambiance of each environment and topic.

What I like about this piece are the many multilayered elements that let the user choose their adventure, and learn about the issues or even contribute their own sounds to the project. The user can take things at their own pace, and the visual animations that accompany the text don’t distract from reading it and hearing sound in the way that watching a full video would. The piece feels continuous, even if the user chooses to bounce around and come back to sections in different orders. But then there are videos in each location set, with an interview of a person who lives or experiences that environment. As I don’t speak French, it is a bit difficult to tell what kind of story they are sharing. But the videos keep the user more grounded in an otherwise fast-paced or easily distracted atmosphere.

There are bits here and there that don’t make sense, such as the focus on Canada (and French Canada) suddenly interspersed with a short section on India under Nature’s “Stealthy as a Cat.” And some of the facts with the decibel reader don’t match up with the section the user clicks on. In the screenshot I took, it talks about a symphony to illustrate nature, but the decibel reader mentions snowmobiles. And the navigation back and forth through the piece can be tricky on a laptop.

But this immersive and interactive piece of journalism is something quite new and interesting, both inviting the user to explore and contribute. I found myself returning to it to find the bits I might have missed, or to see if I could unlock something further. It creates a sense of curiosity and learning with multiple senses (eyes and ears, somewhat touch) to enhance the user’s absorption of the topic. It is accessible to and appropriate for all ages, and could be a great learning tool in a classroom as well as for the general public. It is also sharable, and invites a sense of community with its local focuses in the videos. There is something new around each corner, for both a user interested in spending five minutes with it or an entire hour.

I, for one, will be looking into this concept further: