Major updates to this syllabus will be announced in class. This is a living document.

ARTE 5901-01 Special Topics: StoryLab, Spring 2015

Class meets on Tuesdays, 6:00 – 9:30 p.m., Ryder 324


  • David Tamés, 617.216.1096, Office hours: Mondays & Wednesdays, 2:00-4:00 p.m., Ryder 317, or by appointment
  • Aleszu Bajak, 216.644.1952, Office hours: by appointment



Students will team up with the writers, editors, and designers at Esquire magazine to reinvent what storytelling looks like, sounds like, and reads like in the digital age. The media industry is changing very quickly, and our goal is to create a course that reflects this reality. For StoryLab, we plan to assemble a team of undergraduate and graduate developers, designers, media makers, and journalists. The curriculum will be organized around existing Esquire features, with an emphasis on creativity and experimentation in the use of interactive media, data visualization, and new forms of narrative presentation. Esquire staffers will be present as well as frequent guest lecturers and active collaborators.

Learning  Outcomes

  • Ability to analyze, deconstruct and appraise representative works of interactive journalism and documentary as demonstrated through written reviews, analysis, and presentations;
  • Describe key trends in interactive journalism and documentary practice and methods of collaborative production as demonstrated by active engagement in reading assignments, written reviews and analysis, and classroom discussion;
  • Explain the intrinsic and technical qualities of interactive journalism and documentary in comparison to linear documentary, traditional journalism, photojournalism, news websites, etc., as demonstrated by active engagement in reading assignments and contribution to classroom discussion;
  • Participate in the research, design, and implementation of an interactive magazine feature story as demonstrated by participation in production activities working in an interactive documentary production team that successfully completes an web or tablet based interactive prototype;

About this course (a manifesto of sorts)

Storytelling is undergoing a profound reinvention with the advent of the Internet. Seemingly overnight, everyone with a computer–or smartphone–became a self-publisher of prose and poetry, photo and video, tweets and rants. The old guard of media publishing was caught off guard and is still struggling to keep pace and remain profitable in an age of free content. Access to information, distribution channels, and design have been democratized in a way that making content is as easy as hitting Publish. Wading into this fray, how do we reimagine what a well-reported, deeply-researched and finely-edited piece of journalism looks like, sounds like and reads like in the digital age? Does it connect with the reader on a deep level? How do we measure engagement? Does it have to look like what a story used to look like? Together with writers from Esquire magazine and leading innovators in interactive media, documentary, and design, we will try to answer these questions.


Course schedule

Week 1: January 13
Introduction, oral storytelling, case studies, a provisional manifesto, and context for the class

  • Introduction to the class and review of syllabus and course objectives, storylab is a design studio and digital newsroom mashed into one. This is your first day at work. Meet your colleagues.
  • Guest speaker: Christine Gentry, oral storyteller (6:00-6:45)
  • Case studies (quick overviews):
    • Riding the Silk Road (New York Times, 2013)
    • Bear 71 (NFB/Canada, 2012)
    • Moments of Innovation (Open Doc Lab)
  • Discussion of provisional manifesto, at the end of the semester, you will rewrite the manifesto and make it you own
  • Guest speaker: Tyler Cabot, Senior Features Editor; Director, Esquire Labs, Esquire magazine; context for the class, reinventing storytelling (8:00)
  • Introduce the Interface: aesthetics + experience project

Readings (complete before next class meeting):

  • “Modes of interactivity: analyzing the webdoc” by Kate Nash
  • “Interactive Documentary Manifesto” by Andre Almeida and Heitor Alvelos
  • “Strategies of Interaction, questions of meaning: an audience study of NFB’s Bear 71” by Kate Nash, Studies in Documentary Film 8:3, pp. 221-234, you should spend some time going through Bear 71 and get through to the end before reading this article.

Week 2: January 20
Journalism, Documentary, and Design: A StoryLab micro-conference

Presentations around ‘journalism, documentary, interaction and design in the digital age,”  Q&A with each speaker followed by a moderated discussion on all topics. The instructors will moderate, the presenters/discussants will be:

  • Dan Kennedy, journalism
  • Josh Vekhter, journalism
  • Susan Gold, augmented reality
  • Nick Fortugno, game design
  • Catherine D’Ignazio, civic engagement
  • Lily Bui, community engagement


  • Personal Story (due week 3)

Readings (complete before next class meeting):

Week 3: January 27
Deconstructing, analyzing, experiencing

Update: No class meeting due to the nor’easter of 2015. Personal stories should be posted to the class blog and be presented next week in class if a performance or presentation is appropriate. Teams for Interface: aesthetics + experience assignment were assigned via e-mail and you should link up with your groups as soon as possible. Read through the Esquire stories (listed under Readings tab in this syllabus) and respond to the following the Google poll link sent via e-mail of your top three choices for stories you’d like to work on (this will influence, but will not determine, the final team configurations and teams will have a chance to make final story decisions when they are formed) The Looking Outward #1 assignment is due next week.

  • Present personal stories followed by group critique
  • Start reading Esquire stories under consideration for the group project


  • Looking Outward #1 (due week 4);
  • Interface: aesthetics + experience (due week 5, working in groups and individually)

Readings (no readings this week, at least, so far)

  • Read and choose your top three Esquire stories (housed in Readings tab)

Week 4: February 3
Project Launch / Purposeful storytelling and designing with data workshop

  • Presentations of Looking Outward #1 review (optional, at your discretion, peruse them on the blog at your leisure)
  • Personal story presentations (optional, at your discretion)
  • Discussion of Esquire stories available for teams to work with

Note: The “Designing with data workshop” has been rescheduled to February 10th


  • Interface: aesthetics + experience (in process, due week 5, working in groups and individually)

Readings (read before next class meeting):

  • ”A New Story: Purposeful Storytelling and Designing with Data,” Harmony Institute, PDF


Week 5: February 10
Interface: aesthetics + experience

Update: No class meeting tonight due to another winter storm. We will conduct a conference call at 7:00 p.m. in order to launch the project including assignment of teams and working out team process and communication norms. Please check your email for the conference call information and a link to a Google doc we’ll use as a notebook for this conference call and project launch in lieu of meeting tonight. If for some reason you did not receive the email with this information, contact David or Aleszu right away. If you are unable to participate in the conference call you must still read through the Google doc for important information regarding the final project and to get in touch with your team as soon as possible The Interface: aesthetics + experience presentations will be rescheduled. The designing with data workshop will also be rescheduled. Please go ahead and post your Interface: aesthetics + experience reviews to the blog as scheduled. 

  • Presentations: Interface: aesthetics + experience
  • Discuss dichotomy between Participation versus Interaction, and what do they bring to the party?
  • Building a story world using system mapping to identify narrative feedback loops and mechanisms that move the plot forward based on the decisions of participants
  • Research & Ideation
  • Project launch
    • introduction to the project
    • assignment of teams
    • teams work out collaboration process and communication norms and begin working together on story selection

Viewing (complete before next class meeting):

Assignment: Looking Outward #2 (due week 7)

Week 6: February 17
Civic Media and Civic Engagement

  • Guest speaker: Ethan Zuckerman, Center for Civic Media, MIT Media Lab
  • Discussion of Looking Outward #2 posts
  • Research & Ideation / open lab

Readings (complete before next class meeting): TBD

Assignment: Prepare for Project Pitch Presentation next week, includes a 2-page “take away” to hand out after presentation

Week 7: February 24
Group Project 1/8

  • Part I: Preliminary proposal / In-class pitch presentation
    • Guest reviewers: Jeff Howe, Dina Kraft, Dietmar Offenhuber, Josh Vekhter, Chris Amico, Catherine D’Ignazio (not all confirmed at this time, will be updated soon)
  • Part II: Presentations: Interface: aesthetics + experience

Week 8: March 3
Group Project 2/8

  • Project proposal and plan presentation
  • Project report

March 10, no class, Spring Break

 Week 9: March 17
Group Project 3/8

  • Production / open lab
  • Brief project report
  • Project description (light, sketchy functional spec)

Assignment: Mid-project peer evaluation (due week 12)

Week 10: March  24
Group Project 4/8

  • Production / open lab
  • Brief project report

Week 11: March  31
Group Project 5/8

  • Mid-Project Presentation / Critique
    • Guest reviewers Jeff Howe, Dina Kraft, Dietmar Offenhuber, Josh Vekhter, Chris Amico, Catherine D’Ignazio
  • Production / open lab

Week 12: April 7
Group Project 6/8

  • Production / open lab
  • Brief project report

 Week 13: April 14
Group Project 7/8

  • Production / open lab
  • Brief project report

Assignment: Final Design Document (due April 28)

Week 14: April 21
Group Project 8/8

  • Final Project Presentation / Critique (in-class)
    • Reviewers: TBD

Week 15: April 28
Group Project Public Presentation

  • Public Presentation and Reception (final exam week)

Snack schedule

Eating a snack together in the evening during the break makes the classroom more civilized. We’ll bring coffee and tea; we ask that each class session, per the schedule below, two students bring a small snack that can be shared with the group. This might be a bag of clementines, a box of donuts, a batch of homemade cookies, tabouli with hummus and pita chips, etc. Consider healthy options and find out if any of your fellow students have specific dietary restrictions you might be able to accommodate. Each student will end up bringing snack twice in the semester (inspired by Golan Levin).

  • Week 1, January 13, David and Aleszu
  • Week 2, January 20:  Alexandra, Natasha
  • Week 3, January 27: Snow Day
  • Week 4, February 3: Rania, Mimi
  • Week 5, February 10: Snow Day
  • Week 6, February 17: Jin
  • Week 7, February 24: David and Aleszu
  • Week 8, March 3: Ashley, Maria
  • Week 9
  • Week 10
  • Week 11
  • Week 12
  • Week 13
  • Week 14
  • Week 15


Assigned readings

Each week, assigned readings will be listed in the syllabus each week and should be completed before the next class meeting.  This section may be merged back into the bibliography where you’ll find detailed citations and links to online documents. Documents not available on the public web will be made available in the course DropBox folder, the link to which was sent to each student via email.

  • Moments of Innovation” by William Uricchio
  • “Modes of interactivity: analyzing the webdoc” by Kate Nash
  • A New Story: Purposeful Storytelling and Designing with Data,” Harmony Institute
  •  “Interactive Documentary Manifesto” by Andre Almeida and Heitor Alvelos
  • “Interactive documentary and the future of journalism” by Jess Linington
  •  “Reinventing comics” by Scott McCloud (USC talk about comics as a medium)
  •   “A Creator’s Guide to Transmedia Storytelling: How to Captivate and Engage Audiences Across Multiple Platforms”  by Andrea Phillips
  • Database as a Symbolic Form” by Lev Manovich, Millennium Film Journal No. 34,

Esquire stories

Additional readings

Pick at least two additional readings from the following list depending on your area of interest. Detailed citations and links to online documents may be found in the bibliography.

Media history

  • The medium is the message at 50,” WNYC’s On the Media on Marshall McLuhan
  • “Explorations in communication,” Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan


  • “What a Documentary Is, After All” by Carl Plantinga

Design and data visualization

  • “Design for information” by Isabel Meirelles
  • “The Functional Art” by Alberto Cairo
  • “Graphic design: the new basics” from Ellen Lupton
  • Storytelling with Data” presentation on design process by Jonathan Corum, science graphics editor at The New York Times

Building transmedia storyworlds

  • “Transmedia Marketing: From Film and TV to Games and Digital Media” by Anne Zeiser
  • “Building Storyworlds: the art, craft and business of storytelling in the 21st century ” by Lance Weiler
  • “The Art of Immersion: How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and How We Tell Stories,” Frank Rose
  • “Interaction Design: Beyond Human — Computer Interaction ” by Yvonne Rogers, Helen Sharp & Jenny Preece

Game design

  • “Casual Game Design: Designing Play for the Gamer in ALL of Us”  by  Gregory Trefry
  • “Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals ” by Katie Salen Tekinbas & Eric Zimmerman

The innovation process

  • “The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO’s Strategies for Defeating the Devil’s Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization ” by  Tom Kelly
  • A Taxonomy of Innovation” by LUMA Institute in Harvard Business Review

The future of journalism



Your grade in the class will be based on five assignment and one group project. Participation and readings will not be graded directly, however, you are expected to be conversant in the topics covered in the readings in class discussions and assignemnts.

  • Personal story project (5%)
  • Interface: aesthetics + experience reviews and presentation (15%)
  • Group Project (65%) including Plan, Prototype, and Process Documentation
  • Looking Outwards #1 and #2 blog posts (5% each, 10% total)
  • Personal manifesto (5%)

Each of these assignments are described in detail in individual assignment description pages and due dates may be found in the schedule section of the syllabus.

Media storage

You will create a lot of digital digital in this class, thus, you are required to store you media assets on both a primary and secondary backup storage device  to avoid media assets from being lost.

Studio and equipment access

Workstations with the Adobe Creative Suite and a variety of other software are located in the classroom. The Digital Media Commons in the library offers a wide range of resources that you may take advantage of. A variety of equipment, as needed, may be checked out from the Shillman Hall Media Studios or the Photography Department on Ryder Hall. Contact your instructors for specific equipment needs.

Disabilities statement

Northeastern University strives to provide academic accommodations to students with documented disabilities. Accommodations are approved by the Disability Resource Center (20 Dodge Hall, Students need to register with the DRC and bring their instructors a letter from that office stating approved accommodations. If you will be requesting accommodations in this class, please let the instructor know as soon as possible to avoid delays.

Academic honesty

Media making is a collaborative process, and thus it is acceptable, and in fact you are encouraged, to ask other students, staff, or faculty for help in completing projects. Likewise, you are encouraged to help other students and share your skills and knowledge. Your projects must be original works or adapted from other works with clearly stated attribution. You are expected to be the primary author of the works you produce. Any student submitting work that can be reasonably believed to not be their own will be reported to the Office of Student Conduct and Complaint Resolution according to the Northeastern University Academic Integrity Policy.

Trace participation

Your participation in the Teacher Rating and Course Evaluation (TRACE) survey is expected.

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