News Flash

The black ops team arrived beneath the canopy of night. Floodlights drenched the compound, and the staccato of helicopter rotors sliced through the breeze. The world’s most hunted man had been discovered. Osama Bin Laden had made his last home movie.

News ratings soared when the story broke. News hole, what news hole? This was one of those stories, like 9/11, that caused all other news to fade into the background while we as a nation dug in our teeth for all the juicy details.  After nearly ten years, the public face of terrorism and enemy of Western civilization was dead. Some people celebrated in the streets, some reflected quietly at home, and the rest of us grew curious about bin Laden’s hidden real estate.  After briefly seeing the compound on the cable news gush, the gamer in me wished i could have been a fly on the wall that night.

Luckily, the BBC had my back with this excellent CGI reconstruction and interactive tour of the compound. A tab at the upper left of the feature reveals a view inside the white house during the operation.  This now infamous photo shows a gaunt Obama surrounded by security cabinet members and several joint chiefs of staff looking on with tense expressions.  Oh, Biden’s there, too. The Flash allows users to hover the mouse over the image of everyone in the photo to display the corresponding name and title.

The compound map contains related photos and videos that expand with a click.  The accompanying article follows up on the multimedia by peppering relevant videos into the text.  The combination of Flash multimedia and the traditional journalistic article that followed answered every question I had about the story, and I could finally turn off the cable.

Another site whose multimedia section sucks me in for hours is PBS.org. I know, I know: your grandma also likes PBS. I’ve even come to terms with my affection for Antiques Roadshow. Excuse me while I look for something to knit.

Wikileaks' Julian Assange

Wikileaks' Julian Assange

But seriously, PBS is so good, and so close to being commercial-free you almost forgive them for running a quick Goldman-Sachs ad before the shows. Almost.

One show that never ceases to blow my mind is Frontline, the documentary news show that approaches topics that are often unpopular with other news outlets or too big-picture for daily news output.  Recently I watched Wikisecrets, a new piece about Wikileaks’ recent drama involving the massive leak of top secret military documents.  Frontline has a way of adding new dimensions to my understanding of news events, and to be able to watch this show on demand feels like a gift.  Ten years ago, I also watched Frontline… by endlessly scrounging for new episodes in person, renting whatever dusty VHS tape I could dig up at Blockbuster or a community college library.  Thank you Internet.  Thank you.

Never let it be said that the New York Times is published by lazy people.  It’s this devotion to sheer volume of content that makes navigating the paper’s web page a project in itself.  The NYT tech staff are equally prolific, churning out infographic after embedded video after soundslide gallery from somewhere you’ve never heard of.  Inevitably, they miss the mark.

This overblown Flash piece is nothing but a series of maps, yet unlike BBC’s compound map, there’s no interactivity.  The static locations would have been better represented by tags in Google maps, and the chronological details better viewed in a timeline. It’s not terrible, but it’s not quite up to the Gray Lady’s standards.

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