Increase audience engagement with interactive visuals

By Jake Kreinberg

How can publishers create a better experience for their audiences? We asked our director of interactive and digital news production to explain how to increase a story’s resonance through a more natural-looking presentation.

When it comes to experimenting with new story formats and ways to tell the news, no one is more involved in our editorial strategy than Paul Cheung, our director of interactive and digital news production.

Paul’s team builds features integrating text with photos, videos and informational graphics, all of which can increasingly be seen in virtual reality.

I talked with Paul about how interactive visuals increase engagement with audiences, how we incorporate them into our editorial planning, and how he sees them continuing to evolve.

How do interactive visuals help tell a story?

Paul Cheung

In general, they help boil down a very complex story into a visual one, and as you think about how people engage with stories, they no longer just want text, right? They want videos, photos and informational graphics.

For example, an interactive we did looked at the Rio Olympics – not only showing the medal count, but also the games’ viewership and ticket sales. We also highlighted our top photos from each day of the events.

When you see info like the number of world records that were broken just in a text block, you can read and sort of understand it, but it may not resonate as much as compared to seeing the events and photos of each athlete who actually accomplished the feat.

Do stories with interactives see higher engagement?

We do see higher time spent per page on interactives – typically a few minutes – than your typical text story. I think that’s because viewers don’t have to choose between and look different places for text, video and photos.

The presentation is more natural – the text leads you to the video, which leads you to the data, which leads you back to the text.

And now with virtual reality, viewers can feel immersed in a story, allowing them to engage characters and locations in a way they haven’t been able to before. When we give more control to the audience, we often see them interested in poking around a bit.

What is the process for creating interactives at AP?

When I started at AP more than six years ago, a photo gallery or soundbite may have qualified as an “interactive.” But as technology’s evolved, we’ve obviously been able to do more with the way we tell stories.

Making a great interactive project is not something anyone can do alone, and I think that’s why it’s important for us to collaborate with different people around the newsroom and even externally. My team meets with multimedia reporters and editors so we can all have the same vision for a project.

We also work with a company called Graphiq to enhance the number of stories we publish that contain engaging visuals. While these aren’t produced by our team, Graphiq helps us provide more value to both our customers and their readers.

So there are certain stories where internally we might just add a data visualization or static graphic and nothing beyond that. Then there are others we decide to give the full-on multimedia treatment.

As far as how we decide, I think it depends on the breadth of the story and whether it is unique to AP. Or is it a story that will be gone and have no resonance after a day or two?

Where do you see multimedia storytelling going from here?

I think it’s important to keep in mind how much data journalism has helped visual storytelling. We can tell different and unexpected stories because of data, and present them in ways only possible because of the numbers behind it.

Because of the data and technology available to us now – including the ability to create stories in virtual reality and 360-degree video – I expect more stories to weave together traditional formats (text, photo, video) with newer ones (infographics).

And the work we’ve done so far has been validated by the amount of time audiences are spending with it.

What’s the main thing to keep in mind when creating visual storytelling?

I come from a visual background, so when I look at stories, I often ask, “What is the emotion we want to convey?”

When viewers see our package on the fishermen enslaved in Thailand, what are they feeling? Outrage? Shock? I think it’s important to remember why we do the things we do.

Yes, we’re here to tell the truth, but the truth has an emotional impact attached to it. And there’s not always doom and gloom, shock and dismay, but there are also uplifting stories that convey hope, too.

Jake Kreinberg

Jake is the text and multimedia product manager at The Associated Press and the former editor of Insights. He previously covered college sports as a reporter for AP and helped design its multi-year strategic plan. Have feedback about the blog? Contact us at

insights, photos, multimedia