Photography, Savannah, Travel, Writing

Reflections on a banner year of creativity, collaboration, artistic growth

Catching the tail end of 2014’s year in reviews, I thought I’d share highlights of my own performance.

As someone who considers herself a modest dreamer, I surprised myself with a lot of proud moments and ballsy pursuits in both my career and personal life.

I formed creative partnerships, developed beautiful web projects, traveled to new places, ate great food, read more, slept less, tried my hand at poker, failed at it comically, loved hard, fell hard, got back up and entered 2015.

Looking back with a sound heart, 2014 is a year well-lived with very few regrets and wasted opportunities – beginning on January 1, 2014, when I made my first purchase of the New Year: janaykingsberry.com.

It was my $18.00 pledge to fill my digital canvas with stunning self-produced web content, humorous tales of my journalistic excursions, sarcastic attempts at poetry and photos of places I planned to visit that year.

As modesty often does, it deceived me with greater opportunities and blessings well beyond my worth – some of which were procured by an unknown source of ballsiness.

Such as that time I led the development of Savannah Morning News’ special interactive project commemorating the anniversary of Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil. Considering my limited coding experience, I don’t know where the courage came from. But it’s now my proudest moment: an impressive standalone feature of savannahnow.com and a new submission this year for the annual Georgia Press Awards.

Keep reading for more information on the development of this project

The web presentation I developed for “Midnight” features a responsive design compatible on all devices.

Somewhere in this timeframe, I also accepted an internship with an ambitious world sourced clothing company, Serengetee.  As a south region ambassador, I was tasked with developing creative marketing strategies and promotional ideas to help grow the brand and promote its worldly causes in my area.

I created a website to showcase all of my Serengetee projects, which included cool shoelaces and a video campaign with my good friend and StupidDope producer Richard Williams. Overall, my package took 1st runner-up in Serengetee’s end-of-the-year contest, meaning it fell short in winning a community outreach trip to Guatemala.

On the other hand, it earned the attention of Serengetee founder Ryan Westberg who invited me to remain a part of the company as south region rep captain, a position I proudly still hold today. Now, I lead a team of new reps and I help them develop creative marketing approaches in the hopes that they’ll make it even further than I did.

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In February, I traveled to Germany to visit family, watch my brother close out his final season of high school basketball, and road trip to France where I ate authentic macarons, crepes and shopped at a H&M (<– can’t resist my American girl urges)

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Later that month, I learned that a video I shot for Hodge Elementary School teacher Bynikini Frazier as part of her submission for Gov. Nathan Deal’s Innovation in Teaching competition won! She received a $2,000 stipend and earned Hodge Elementary a $5,000 grant. Look out for Ms. Frazier! She’s also our 2015 Savannah-Chatham Teacher of the Year!

Click the image to watch our video submission for Gov. Nathan Deal’s Innovation in Teaching competitions.

In March, I helped transition Spotted® Savannah onto a new, responsive and speedy platform which improved both the viewer experience and upload process for our volunteer photographers. The program was also useful in aggregating photo vignettes from staff members during Savannah’s biggest event of the year, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

During Savannah Stopover, I fell in love with the band Future Islands all while shooting hundreds of jarring photos and “WOO!”-screaming myself hoarse with friend and fellow photographer Adriana Boatwright. If indie-electro-pop music with a husky vocal lead is right up your alley, listen to Future Island’s 2014 album “Singles.”

One of my better captures of Future Islands singer Samuel Herring during the band’s opening night performance at Savannah Stopover.

May offered a rare opportunity to see me step from behind the camera and down the runway for Savannah Fashion Week. I modeled for two local boutiques, donned gold eyebrows and took selfies with some of the most gorgeous people I’ve seen up close.

Photo by Candace Perry/fashion-shots.com

Later that month, I shot photos and captured the vibrant life of my colorful neighborhood The Starland District. Recently named as “an incubator for creativity” by the New York Times, Starland was a perfect start to a funky, alternative tour of Savannah that I led for Richard and his gal Yasmin Lawson. It later inspired our Serengetee / StupidDope collab and we continued the cultural excursions with a trip to the nationally acclaimed Zunzis, a shoot at Tybee and a video profile of my favorite watering hole Foxy Loxy Cafe.

5,000 miles later, I returned to Germany where I watched the same little brother I picked on years ago graduate high school as a star athlete and brilliant adult-kid making his family proud. I also fed a baby goat, tried (and choked on) hookah for the first time, cruised shotgun in my parents’ new Audi and scouted photo locations at dawn with my dad.

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I began the second half of 2014 as the face of Savannah’s yearly tourist publication, Our Savannah.

Produced by the Savannah Morning News, the free magazine occupies stands around town for an entire year and provides an insider’s guide to Savannah’s impressive history, culture, cuisine and arts.

Along with yours truly, the cover features friend Malcolm Love Randall as a striking tuba player and a canine companion, Belle, fixed at his feet — all complemented with the beautiful backdrop of Alex Raskin Antiques. The concept was developed by SMN’s commercial content producer Christopher Sweat and photographed by Adriana Iris Boatwright. The entire experience is one of my favorite moments of the year.

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Where work took the lead in the first half of 2014, I’d say the latter half was dedicated to play.

I made personal trips to Arizona and California, which was completely new terrain for me. Arizona’s reclusive setting and feverishly atypical climate was a strange paradise. I think it was there that I began understanding how creativity can be birthed from isolation. Endless deserts and a brutal sun may seem barren of artistic value for some. But on the contrary, gorgeous landscapes of sandy windswept roads and rocky plateaus were just around the bend. I also hiked Telegraph Pass at dawn, a roughly 5-mile trek and 1045 feet incline that led to a breathtaking view.

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From the highest point of Telegraph Pass, I watched an awe-inspiring sunrise light up the deserts of Arizona.

Contrary to Arizona’s humbly sublime experience, California felt like a burst of cultural infusions and lofty dreams.

With beautiful people, beaches and sunny boulevards, California is just as you imagined. It’s all the things you’ve heard and seen on TV and yet so much more. Of its many popular destinations, I explored San Diego where everything was photogenic. But I wasn’t as shutter-happy as I expected to be. I was too distracted by the feel of it. I remember wanting to cling to every moment, sensation, every small fiber of detail so I could recall it all later. It was like trying to savor ice cream as it’s melting. Of the photos I did take, they required little to no editing at all.

California has mastered the art of #NoFilter.

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I spotted this surfer posing for a photo shoot on Pacific Beach. I wish I could track down the photographer to see her edits of this iconic Cali scene.

 Favorite movies of 2014

  1. Birdman
  2. Interstellar
  3. Gone Girl
  4. Big Hero 6
  5. Foxcatcher

Favorite music artists

  1. SZA
  2. Future Islands
  3. Haim
  4. Sam Smith
  5. Woodkid

Favorite current TV shows

  1. Girls
  2. Silicon Valley
  3. How to Get Away with Murder
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There are many moments on any given day when I’m reminded and admittedly overwhelmed by the impact of my work as a journalist and the civic duties bound to it. But it wasn’t until the arrival of Haroon Siraj, a Pakistani journalist visiting the Savannah Morning News under the U.S. Professional Journalism Exchange Program, that I realized how lucky I am to have a voice and the opportunity to use it on behalf of my community. These small liberties are ones that many journalists around the world are fighting for every day. Haroon’s father, Siraj-ud-din, was one of them who made the ultimate sacrifice after his refusal to accept dictation from the Taliban.

Above is an interview that I filmed and co-edited with Haroon in which he shares his experiences as a journalist for Pakistan’s largest media publication, The Nation, what he hopes to take away from his time in Savannah and why it’s important for him to continue his father’s legacy.

Photography, Savannah, Writing

Savannah Spotted®: A pillar for cultural, community pride

I’d like to take a moment to gush about a program that I am lucky enough to manage every day.

As head coordinator for the Savannah Morning News multimedia program Savannah Spotted, I have the opportunity to share and promote a wealth of impressive work captured around my city every day – and in that process – I’m learning so much about what makes Savannah an increasingly national gem for culture, art, food, fashion and history.

That's me(!), your Spotted® coordinator, explaining the process for uploading to the new Spotted during a social we hosted earlier this year at the Savannah Morning News.

That’s me(!) explaining the process for uploading to the new Spotted during a social we hosted earlier this year at the Savannah Morning News.

Of course a lot of the credit for showcasing our city to an audience of thousands goes to my amazing team of Spotted photographers. Representing different walks of life, it’s no wonder Spotted is so successful: Our photographers are students, educators, paramedics, stay-at-home parents, business leaders, Savannah newcomers, police officers and so much more. Experience levels range from novice to professional and many have joined to network and gain exposure among other reasons. But most importantly, everyone shares a mutual love for Savannah and the abundance of creativity, community and culture found here.

The caliber of work published on Spotted® and savannahnow aims to reflect that appreciation for Savannah’s diverse scene. From festivals, galas, art shows, graduations, marathons, fashion shows, concerts, networking events, parades, ribbon cuttings and even bikini contests – Spotted® is always there.

This year, we’ve made significant strides in improving the experience for both visitors and contributors to Spotted®.

Most notable is the relaunch of spotted.savannahnow.com.

With bated breaths, we debuted our new site earlier in 2014 during the city’s biggest day of the year – St. Patrick’s Day – and the response has been great ever since. The redesign placed more emphasis on photo visibility, mobile compatibility, and sharing/searching tools – but we’re still constantly tweaking the site to improve the experience for all.

The process for uploading photos to Spotted® has also undergone a tremendous and much needed upgrade. The new bulk uploader interface and platform is clean, easy and agile. It works in various modern browsers and even has a mobile upload component, which allows photographers and reporters to share photos from breaking news incidents on a whim.

Heading into the final quarter of 2014, we’re exploring more interactive and creative ways to showcase the community and up the exposure of our Spotted® photographers and their work.

One project, in particular, is our return of high school football coverage. We’re currently developing a game plan to shoot photos and videos at a majority of the games this year. But with a roughly 12-week football season and up to 10 games happening each week, we’ll be looking to recruit a lot of volunteers to help in the coverage.

From the spectators, to the band, to the cheerleaders and athletes on the field, capturing all the excitement at football games generates a lot of acknowledgement of our young talent – as well as their schools, families and friends.

And it goes without saying that the coverage also exposes photographers to a whole new pool of clientele looking for someone to shoot senior portraits or demo/highlight reels for prospective schools.

Regardless of your event preference or commitment level, the perks that come with being a Spotted® photographer are plentiful. Aside from the fun of shooting Savannah’s social scene, team members enjoy a number of exclusive benefits, including:

  • Media access to festivals, parties, concerts and more.
  • Plenty of online exposure on savannahnowdosavannah and its social media platforms.
  • The opportunity to see Spotted work in our print publications Savannah Morning News and Do Savannah
  • Chances at monthly prizes, event tickets and gas card giveaways
  • A new profile series in the Savannah Morning News highlighting an individual photographer’s work, experience and creative process. (You can see the first two profiles we’ve done here and here.)

Additionally, we host Spotted® parties a few times throughout the year to reward and thank our contributors, while knowing the work they do for our community is invaluable and can never be fully expressed.

If you’d like to join Spotted and contribute to its ever-emerging vision, please fill out our entry form here. You can also email me directly at janay.kingsberry@savannahnow.com with any questions, concerns, ideas.

 

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Writing

Summer Reads: A Visit from the Goon Squad

I wish I had a well-reasoned explanation behind my decision to purchase “A Visit from the Goon Squad” about a month ago. Admittedly, I was unfamiliar with the work (or existence, for that matter) of Jennifer Egan, who is clearly a pretty big deal just based alone on the coveted Pulitizer Prize winner seal on later editions of her “goon squad” novel. It’s ultimately the reason behind my purchase – plus the hasty minutes I spent in the store skimming the first chapter when we’re introduced to Sasha.

Sasha is a feisty, attractive young woman with a troubling addiction to stealing – mostly minute things like screwdrivers, bath beads and little children’s’ scarves. In the first chapter, Sasha is in the girl’s bathroom during a dull dinner date when, with rushing euphoria, she decides to swipe a naive woman’s wallet. The rest of the awkward night unfurls horrifically as Sasha and her date are somehow looped into helping the victim recover her stolen wallet.

From there, things get crazier and a lot more cringe-worthy as we’re introduced to the second central character, Sasha’s former boss, Bennie Salazar, in chapter 2. Bennie is a record label executive and recovering bad boy who still entertains a few naughty thoughts, but in his aging form, is unable to maintain that lifestyle.

Throughout the book, Sasha and Bennie have plenty more demons revealed through the narratives of lovers, friends and associates during the span of several decades. Each chapter reads as its own short story with its own voice… and the more you read, the more you form the connections between the characters from past and present. Here’s one of the better ones: During a family vacation, Bennie’s mentor Lou meets an African safari tour guide whose son will later go on to marry Lulu, the daughter of a PR executive who once employed Bennie’s ex-wife. Now Lulu works for Bennie.

This is a book that demands and rewards dedication.

The more you have, the more you’ll enjoy this. But the chapters are long. And my faith in Egan’s ability to make sense of the character weaving began to waver. Yet she usually delivered in a timely, effortless way, instantly making me regret my page scrambling to recall past characters. Still… a chart somewhere in the front/back of the book wouldv’e been helpful. just sayin.

Now, just hours afters after having finished ‘Goon Squad’, the characters and their stories are still swimming in my head. Many fates were left unknown, many characters had unhappy endings, but all of them moved forward seemingly changed in one way or another.

There’s a lot of emphasis on music. and I mean very specific music.. classic rock. heavy metal. a lot of other rock music i’m not aware of. The music is practically on every page – expelling a veneration of old school and new school (though mostly old school), the swift changes in music’s accessibility and consumption, and the temptations/dark forces at play for anyone even remotely involved in the music industry.

But mostly, I find that this book uses music and the volatile lives of people caught in the middle of it to observe change, connection and the continuity of life. Artist, Kevin Thomas sums it up best in a comic strip published in HORN! THE COLLECTED REVIEWS.

“How do we get from A to B? How do networks form then dissolve? How do we lose our values? The short answer is we grow up. The long answer is as fleeting and irretrievable as a pause in a great rock song”.

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Music, Photography

Nightlife shooting: don’t be afraid of the noise

Very often I try to practice photography outside of my comfort zone.

Recently, I pushed my 3-year-old Canon Rebel to the limits for a few late night photo shoots at the Savannah Stopover Music Festival. The 3-day music extravaganza features up-and-coming indie/alternative bands from across the nation that are either currently on tour or stopping through on their way down to SXSW.

This year, more than 100 performances were held in 10 various venues over the course of one rainy weekend. So undoubtedly, shows were packed with a variety of music lovers, partygoers and some of the best arts photographers you can find in Savannah. Yet even for these pros, the challenges of shooting were mutual across the board.

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While low and sporadic lighting, tight spaces and drunken crooners falling into you are pretty much the reoccurring villains of nightlife photography, Stopover takes the cake in all of my experience of shooting at late shows. 

I sifted through hundred of photos at the end of each night in search of my best stills – good focus, low grain, aesthetic appeal.

Few actually made my shortlist of requirements. But that’s really what encompasses the beauty of photography. It’s not about shooting hundreds of good photos. It’s about shooting one great photo.

That one photo makes everything else worthwhile.

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The energy and excitement from those nights were a source of inspiration in my editing process. I wanted to retain some of the noise and movement in an aesthetic way – not to hide my mistake, but to capture the feel of the moment.

Unlike the soft and clean results you’d produce for portraits, I think nightlife photography calls for a little more risk-taking, promiscuity, coloring outside of the lines – all that jazz.

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Interactives, Writing

How a little code knowledge can go a long way.

Considering my previous blog focused on creating visually rich timelines using a simple Google spreadsheet, you might say this post on web page development is a pretty big jump.

Well, it is and it isn’t.

I’ve been at this coding thing for about a year now and while I can’t build web pages from scratch, I know enough about the language to understand how to customize and add on to existing themes and frameworks.

It’s my “fake it til you make it” method of producing impressive web projects – a secret that tons of others before me  have learned with the help of some basic html knowledge.

Below is a look at the responsive web page I developed to commemorate a special anniversary in Savannah:

Keep reading for more information on the development of this project

Keep reading for more information on the development of this project

One thing that’s important to remember in manipulating a web page is that HTML is simply the skeleton of a website.  But it’s the CSS that provides the skin. And you’ll need to have an understanding of both in order to create or recreate the sort of visually rich sites in high demand.

I think my former online editor Carl Lewis probably explains it best with an endearing geeky quip he often tells me.

“You’re the CSS to my HTML”

Meaning that while HTML provides structure, it’s the CSS that actually gives a website its pizzazz. (Thanks, Carl! )

To understand this relationship a little better, I recommend taking advantage of the free online courses provided by codeacadamy.com. It won’t teach you to how to create stunning websites but it’ll get you familiar with the language and functionalities of HTML and CSS, which will go a long way when you’re trying to find the elements you need and replace them with what you want.. Upon completion, codeacademy will also help you search for advanced classes in your area if you’ve developed a case of the code virus (see what i did there?).

For me, I learn best when I’m thrown into projects. I prefer the learn-as-you-go process by browsing sites offering free and customizable html frameworks. A lot of them are basic templates with a featured image component,  a contact box, share buttons and other common website elements.

But you can also find a few sites that specialize in responsive design with stunning intros, interactive features and beautiful typography – and still FREE, by the way.

A favorite of mine is html5up. They’ve only got a handful of themes at the moment but they’re regularly adding more.

I recently used their Helios theme as the framework for a special Savannah Morning News web presentation on the 20th anniversary of John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil – the book that propelled Savannah as a major tourist destination.

If you toggle between the original design and mine, you’ll notice some of the changes I made.

I started by removing the ‘Helios’ title from the homepage display. All I had to do was locate the head tags and remove the text.  I opted to keep this area clear of any additional text because I wanted the focus to be on the beautiful full-screen image of Bonaventure Cemetery. This also meant removing the navigation menu above.

The start button, however, was a personal selling point for me because I liked how it launches the viewer to the second phase of the interactive. And without the navigation menu, it leaves you with only one available route, which promotes the lovely storybook feel I was going for.

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Most of the follow-up design I kept the same. But I obviously added my own images and switched out the placeholder text.

I also removed a few excess promos from the carousel by deleting everything found in between the open close tags: <article> and </article>. see below.

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Further down, I pasted the iframe from a TimlineJS created by my web colleague, Kendall Jackson and then proceeded with a preview of our big Midnight story by Kim Wade on the impact of the book in Savannah.

Still with me? I hope so.

If you refer to the original Helios theme, you’ll find there are sub pages provided in the top navigation menu on the homepage. The titles of each menu item explain what sort of layout they contain. ie.. right sidebar, left sidebar and no sidebar.

While I liked all of the layouts, I knew I didn’t have the time to work with any of the more enhanced pages. So considering my deadline, I made several duplicates of the no sidebar html file, customized them and linked them to their appropriate promos featured in the homepage carousel.

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Perhaps, one day I’ll go back and replace those basic pages with Helios’ more visual options. But working under a tight deadline forced me to take a quicker route.

You’ll notice I also greatly simplified the footer on each of the pages. Once again, it was for the sake of meeting my deadline.

Code input, while it can be pretty easy and formulaic, takes a whole lotta time and any small mistake, any forgotten bracket or colon can throw off your entire design.

So I kept the footers simple and consistent with one another and I was done with the entire presentation in less than a week.

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Out of all of it, the hardest part was adding the savannahnow logo and the share buttons. That feature, alone, took me two hours to properly align – even after referring to dozens of online resources. Eventually, I just decided to keep tweaking until something worked. Based on all the chatter and techiniques I came across, I concluded this must be difficult for a lot of coders – though it seems it should be easy.  And while I’m sure I may not have used the technically correct method, its end result has been pretty consistent on all devices and whaddayaknow – we’re up to 851 Facebook likes in just the 2 weeks since the project’s launch!

Anywho, despite the little kinks and the hasty finishing touches, the site still wowed a lot of folks in the community. And, admittedly, not just because of the design but mostly due to the amazing stories and archived content dug up, scanned, researched and developed by a small but dedicated team in the newsroom.

The site itself, is just a pretty frame to present an already compelling story.

Lastly, in the midst of all that coding, I had an opportunity to film a highly respected and long-standing journalist in the community: Mr. Jan Skutch, senior reporter at the Savannah Morning News. He was kind enough to sit down with me to share his experiences covering the Jim Williams trials – a 10 year saga that he was reluctant to revisit. But we’re thankful that he did.

 

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I spend a lot of time thinking about how much I want to produce work that actually makes a difference in the community.

In December, I found an opportunity to do just that when I was introduced to Ms. Bynikini Frazier, a twenty-something animated 1st grade teacher at Hodge Elementary who was applying for a state grant for her school for the third consecutive year.

I spent a day filming her class and the rest of the month editing the video. But in the end, I didn’t feel satisfied with the final project. The audio had flaws. Some shots were shaky. And it was hard to feature all the key highlights and ambient settings in the required 2 minute video length.  

I started questioning whether it was good enough for her to win and if I was ever cut out for this task in the first place.  

But then Ms. Frazier emailed me with her thoughts on the video. And her words were so sincere and so encouraging, that I immediately understood why all of her precious 1st graders loved her. Why the entire staff at Hodge appreciated her. And why she was being honored by the Savannah-Chatham School Board as a nominee for Teacher of the Year.

Ms. Frazier said she didn’t care what the judges thought, she loved the video and how well it captured the spirit of her classroom. Her words snapped me out of my 7-year-old meltdown and I re-approached the final edits of the video knowing that the technical stuff didn’t matter so much because the story was there.

A month goes by without any word on the results and I begin to accept the realization that we lost the competition. But I still felt a sense of pride when I saw today’s morning paper and its centerpiece on the newly elected Teacher of the Year: Ms. Bynikini Frazier!

I remember thinking… I don’t just know this woman. I know how much she rightfully deserves this honor! 

I sent her a brief congratulatory email and she responded shortly after with some follow-up news. She just found out that she’s a winner in The Governor’s Office of Student Achievement’s Innovation in Teaching competition.

yep. that’s the one I helped her with.

She’ll receive a $2,000 stipend and Hodge will receive a $5,000 grant for implementation of Georgia’s instructional standards.

Peep the winning submission in the video above.

Interactives, Writing

Using TimelineJS for interactive storytelling

My first break into the ever-emerging world of interactive storytelling began in 2012 with an elegant and simple open-source tool TimelineJS.

At the time, my digital editor Carl V. Lewis had just started at Savannah Morning News and one of his big priorities was to create more visually interactive components for major stories and investigative pieces on savannahnow.com. Rochelle-Small Toney’s scandal-laden tenure as the former City Manager of Savannah served as an exemplary prototype.

Complete with various multimedia elements, the project was unlike anything we’d ever featured on our site and all of us looked to Carl in awe of his digital alchemy. Always passionate to teach, he encouraged me and my web team colleague Cate Mafera to practice the tool for ourselves. So first chance I got, I made an interactive timeline of the 2012 Savannah Film Festival. Creating such a stunning display was astonishingly easy and really the only key requirement is to start with Timeline’s basic Google spreadsheet template to input the appropriate data for your project. With one media field, you can add everything from photos, videos, embedded tweets, maps, audio files and much more.

I kept my first timeline (which has since been updated to reflect the 2013 film fest lineup) pretty standard, adding only descriptions and movie trailers. But now I’m a timeline titan, using the tool to roundup other popular stories and hot topics.

Most recently, and with the help of staff archivist Julia Muller, I created a timeline which highlighted Paula Deen & family’s early history of business ventures,  personal accomplishments and recent controversies. The project went on to be shared by We Support Paula Deen, a Facebook group with over half a million “likes”.

But perhaps the greatest thing Timeline has shown me is that enhancing and creating interactive digital content is not as intimidating as we make it out to be. There are tons of other cool tools available that will entice you to dip a toe in the massive pool of interactive content. And I guarantee that pretty soon you’ll be ready to dive right in for more challenging projects you never dared before.

Check out Carl’s video tutorial for more information on creating visually-rich timelines under deadline or explore the Film Fest timeline I created below. 

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