JUPITER, Fla. — During my senior year at Mizzou, I finally got to take a class I’d been eying since entering the School of Journalism. I don’t recall the number — it was somewhere in the 300s — but I do remember the unofficial title we had for it: our immersion project.
An exercise in long-form journalism, the semester’s assignment was to plant yourself inside a story, wallow in it for more than a month, and then emerge with a deep, penetrating and, in some cases, personal story about the experience. In short, the idea was to immerse yourself in the story. Today, we might call this embedding. Students would work at shelters. They would ride along with a high school team for a season. They’d go through a round of cancer treatments with the family of a patient. I spent my semester entrenched in the Kenny Hulshof campaign for Congress, and by the end I was able to chronicle from behind closed doors how a Republican won Missouri’s ninth district for the first time in more than 70 years. My story was richer (I hope) and it was certainly longer (I admit) because my experience within the campaign colored and powered my writing.
But how to share that immersion? Did I really take a reader into the campaign or did I just describe what it was like there?
With spring training approaching, that was the thought that preoccupied me in the past week or so as I tested with the power of a new interface we’ve adopted at The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, ScribbleLive. Is there a way to take a reader to spring training, and not just tell him/her what they would see there if they came? Ostensibly, ScribbleLive is a chat program that eases the act of picking a question from a reader and answer it in real-time. Theoretically, it’s a platform for a multimedia extravaganza of real-time coverage. That was my theory, at least. ScribbleLive allows a reporter to not only interact with readers — ala chat, or Cover-it-Live — but it also allows you to drop in pictures, integrate video and, should the spirit move you, crank out a sidebar that publishes immediately into the stream of coverage. At the end, the total product is repackaged as a blog — an article that can be read linearly.
Television stations can go live from an event and act as that window to another location for the viewer. He or she can go from couch to sideline or Senate floor with the twitch of a thumb. Cable channels, like ESPN or MLB Network, will carry Albert Pujols’ arrival at Los Angeles Angels camp on Monday with live cameras. MLB Network does a neat thing of tapping into its network of ballpark cams to transport fans into batting practice, as it happens (or soon after). ScribbleLive gives me, just another newspaper guy, the ability to provide visual coverage — as it happens. And where better to do this than from spring training?
There isn’t a better convergence of interest, access and action for a baseball writer than spring training.
For a team like the St. Louis Cardinals, spring training happens far away from its nucleus of fans and relatively out of sight compared to regular-season games. The Cardinals have a ravenous fan base to start with, and because spring training happens far away, with limited access to video or info save for the half dozen beat reporters in place there, the craving for information is insatiable. We’ve learned this over and over and over again, whether it was the time the servers melted after we posted a picture of Tony La Russa’s new tattoo or the reaction recently when we had the first video of Adam Wainwright throwing to hitters almost a year after Tommy John surgery. But other than visiting spring training and the complex here at Roger Dean Stadium, a reader doesn’t have the ability to experience spring training as it happens. There is no live coverage, say, of bullpens.
I wanted to see if we could change that.
I wanted to see if ScribbleLive would allow us to transport a reader at his/her laptop in St. Louis to the fields of Jupiter.
The result was this multimedia mishmash: “Cardinals Live: First Spring Workout.”
There are videos of interviews with management and players. The interview with John Mozeliak was processed and posted before his presser with the media had ended, meaning readers who were watching this stream of info were watching Mozeliak talk about the camp minutes after he said the words. I was able to walk around the first workout and snap pics of pictures warming up. I shot video of the first official bullpens thrown by Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, and within minutes our readers at StlToday.com were watching the same thing from the comfort of their homes or on their mobile phones. Throughout the process, I was able to answer questions from readers or offer news as it happened.
There were some hitches. So much of the transmitting of video and photos came directly from my iPhone that it locked up a few times, and it crashed once trying to send a video into the ScribbleLive stream.
Reviews, overall, were positive. Traffic was solid.
I bring this up here partially as part of the journal project, but more to see if a conversation can get started about this idea of flipping immersion journalism around. TV has been able to do it now for awhile. Does it translate to the printed word/online site like we tried to do here? Does it work, or is it just a parlor trick, the latest fad? If we can bring the reader into an immersion journalism situation then we’re doing more than explaining our first-hand insight, we’re sharing it. Immersion journalism is suddenly replaced by something else.
Call it experience journalism.