Previously on ….

Entering reporting on an unfamiliar issue or conflict is hard — but engaging the audience in a story mid-telling is something that television writers have faced for years; could we borrow what they’ve learned to help get readers up to speed on news more easily?

You’ve seen it on your favorite television drama. You’ve heard it on Serial. It’s the recap sequence!

For this assignment, I created a “recap sequence” that could be viewed before reading an article about an on-going or developing story. In this case, I started with this piece, “Saudis launch air campaign to defend Yemen government,” published by Al Jazeera on March 25, 2015.

Instead of creating an explainer for just this one story, I opted to try and come up with a way that every story could have a “recap sequence” using just material from the news organization’s archive.

I compiled the contents starting from the original article — published by Al Jazeera on March 25, 2015.

First, I collected all the linked articles (from in text or “related” boxes in the side and bottom margins of the story), pulling linked article data 3 layers deep.

Then, I scraped the images, captions, headlines, and deks associated with each link, using and manual cut and paste.

Next, I organized the headlines chronologically.

I created a series of “cards” in a Google Fusion Table to look at the potential material.

I then pulled all the images, headlines, captions, and deks into an Adobe After Effects composition. Each unique piece of text is displayed for 2-3 seconds, in order, with the associated images whenever possible.

I manually excluded a few ‘related’ feature or opinion pieces, but otherwise tried to see if a relatively “autopilot” approach would yield a passable explainer.

My video editing leaves something to be desired, but personally, I thought it was a quick little way to get some background that helped me understand what was happening in the story!

See what you think!