The coalition agreement of Germany’s new government consists of 51,603 words. Reading the entire text takes around three and a half hours. For this project, journalists read the entire document, highlighted important parts and added contextual comments. By choosing a category (e.g. ‘conflict points’) readers can quickly skim through the relevant parts of the original agreement and read the author’s comments. Nothing is lost – It is still possible to expand the collapsed parts of the agreement, but this interface makes it possible to get a first overview without having to invest 3,5 hours or scroll endlessly.
The project was successful in reaching people outside Funke Mediengruppe’s readership, mainly through social media. Judging by the time users spent on the page on average (9 minutes), this interactive interface created an engaging user experience and made a long and dry document accessible, which is especially important given the relevance of this text for all of German society. People both from the industry as well as readers complimented us for this innovative approach to not only reporting about and summarizing government plans, but illustrating it with the original document.
This interactive story is based on a state-of-the-art frontend technology stack using React with next.js and emotion for CSS-in-js. As most of our users visited the page on their smartphones, we paid extra attention to a good user experience on small devices with low bandwidth.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The timeline for turn-around was especially short on this project, as the interest in the coalition agreement’s contents is high directly after it is published for about a day. Therefore, the whole code was set up with placeholder text before. Another difficulty was to find an efficient work-flow through which journalists from different desks and different newspapers (from Funke Mediengruppe’s media group) could read parts of the document, add their comments, highlight the relevant text passages and indicate the category of relevance.
We decided to set up a Google Doc where the authors used the commenting function, which meant that comments needed to be transferred to the code manually, though, and multiple iteration rounds of both design specifications as well as text were needed to make all comments fit into the interface.
What can others learn from this project?
The approach we used in this project can be transferred to a multitude of areas, occasions, institutions and geographies. It creates opportunities to translate technical jargon, highlight subtle or hidden points of relevance, organize and structure content as well as provide context or opinion, all while keeping the original text accessible. It can be empowering for readers to not only read about something, but instead get some hints on how to decipher openly accessible yet complicated or long documents themselves. It also adds more transparency to reporting, as journalists are marking the original text next to each statement or claim they make, and therefore allow readers to critically check their interpretations.
This approach could be used not only for other government texts across the world, but even for any other dry but relevant texts such as terms of reference in regards to privacy issues; speeches that could be annotated and their rhetorics scrutinized, or any other document content that would profit from being organized into different categories with the option to include comments.