Washington Post Graphics Developer Visits Communication Department

Elizabeth Gregory Staff Writer

Last week, the University’s Communication Department hosted Washington Post Senior Editorial Developer, Seth Blanchard, for a conversation on the use of new technology in journalism. 

For the past three years, Blanchard has worked in the engineering and graphics departments managing the incorporation of emerging technologies, such as Augmented Reality and Photogrammetry, to complement and enhance the stories reported by the Post’s journalists. 

Blanchard hopes to help make storytelling a more immersive experience for the Post’s audience. Augmented Reality puts a digital object in a physical space so it can be seen in context.  

Recently, Blanchard’s team used AR to create a game for the Post’s app that allows users to compare the speeds of athletes in various Olympic sports. To create it, the Washington Post’s digital team did a case study on the fastest sports to make the game as accurate as possible. “It’s a more visceral experience,” said Blanchard. 

Blanchard said it can be hard to keep up with new developments because they evolve so quickly, making it more difficult to learn because it incorporates an entirely new facet of technology. 

The Post also used AR to create an interactive map for the solar eclipse last year, which allowed readers to follow the path of the eclipse via a shadow overlaid onto an interactive geographical map.  

Blanchard also works on projects using Photogrammetry. “You can think of it as measuring distances with pictures,” he said. 

After Hurricane Maria, the Post’s graphics team went down to Puerto Rico to document the effects of the natural disaster. They used a drone to capture 150 pictures of a home that had collapsed into a ravine, compiling them into a 3D model to give viewers an understanding for the geographical features that contributed to the severity of the damage. 

Photogrammetry allows them to obtain a video that cannot be taken any other way. However, Blanchard describes it as an unintuitive software that takes a long time to master. 

Blanchard said that in an age when print media is struggling to get consumers to their pages, it is imperative that journalists meet a younger audience where they get their information. 

The Washington Post was one of the first media organizations to obtain a spot on Snapchat’s Discover page. He hopes that one day AR will be embedded in technology similarly to microphones and video cameras. 

Blanchard sees these new technologies as the next invention of movies or the radio, and because he was not alive when they were created, this is his opportunity to play a role in how AR and Photogrammetry are introduced into society. 

Blanchard is one of a series of speakers visiting the University this spring to discuss how AR and Virtual Reality are affecting various professions within the Communication field. 

“These speakers address questions that go beyond the technology itself to explore how the technology aids in our ability to tell stories, to reach audiences, to craft messages that will impact the way people experience a range of subject matter and how they think critically about it,” said chair of the Communication Department Dr. Heidi Rose.

Rose added that more digital media courses are being added to the curriculum to give students the opportunity to develop skills in new mediums.