In-house Publishing Tools - Changing The Digital Strategy Landscape

Molly Fitzgerald

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)

launched their most recent InfoGuide using their new HTML5 interactive publishing tool, which Pase2 built in partnership with the independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher. This interactive publishing tool is unique in that it enables CFR to create beautiful striking interactive presentations, without the help of developers or designers, and gives CFR the ability to focus on the content, not the development of the interactive. These interactive presentations can be easily packaged up and exported to be used by educators the world over. We were thrilled to be a part of this project, and we wanted to learn about CFR’s digital motivations, how the tool is working out so far, and what’s in store for the CFR’s interactive future. I sat down with Jeremy Sherlick, Deputy Director for Multimedia at CFR to find out the inside scoop.

Q: Tell me why CFR decided they needed this tool and what mission does this solve for your organization?

A: Up to this point, we were producing all of our interactives using flash. We saw a lot of great success with this type of interactive presentation, and they really were the right fit for us at the time. But we came to an inflection point between what we wanted from a technology standpoint and what types of stories we wanted to tell. Given where web technology was headed, we need to take a look at how best we were going to present our stories. With the convergence of HTML5 coming to the forefront of modern technology, and seeing people abandoning flash to produce this type of content, we knew now was the right time to make the switch.

Another aspect was that we wanted to make these guides more accessible. We wanted a tool that would allow us to produce responsive designs for mobile and tablet platforms. We understood that given the size and scope of our budget, building this new tool would be the best solution to reach as many audiences as possible, across a range of platforms.

And finally, this tool allows us to focus on the content. With the flash sites, it took us the same amount of time to produce the content as it did for development. We now have a tool that lets us drop in our own maps, timelines, and videos seamlessly, without having to worry about how we were going to develop this onto our site.

Q: How do you feel this tool has enabled CFR to focus on telling your story?

One of our main goals here is that we wanted to be able to do all of the initial development and design of the interactives upfront by simply utilizing the interactive tool and its templates. The tool was built to serve as both the canvas and the paintbrush to help us tell our stories.

Personally, I generally don't like working with a blank canvas, or a blank page staring at me. I like to have things already there so that I can work with them to tell the story. This tool gives us that opportunity. The tool allows us to not have to  worry about development and just focus on the story at hand. Adding text, videos, timelines, maps, slidewhows is now effortless. It’s really a breakthrough for us.

Q: How does this tool fit into CFR's digital strategy?

A: I think ever since we started producing Crisis Guides in 2007, the production of interactives has been part of our digital strategy. Because they’ve been so well received – earning numerous awards including 3 Emmy statues, our strategy has been on an been an evolutionary path ever since. The other thing our interactives do well is that they help us expand our audience. We can go beyond our traditional audience of high level foreign policy readers to wider audience of educators, students, and general news consumers.

Again, it was this inflection point, where we were saying to ourselves, what is the technology and the types of content we are going to produce and how are we going to go about this?

This tool was designed from the ground up to focus on educators and students, and the responsive design makes our content more accessible on various platforms and browsers, all of which lets us cater to a broader audience.

Q: Tell me a bit about some of your favorite interactive features and how this impacts your content?

A: The two features we spent the most time developing with Phase2 are the mapping and the timeline tools.

To finally have a scalable mapping tool is just huge. Not only can we put these maps into features like our InfoGuides, but also we can now produce a map and embed it in any of our articles on One of our original goals for the website was to not only tell people what's going on in the world, but to show them where it’s happening. With this robust tool we can now make that happen – it’s very exciting.

Second is the timeline, and this is also one of the most complicated aspects of the tool. The timeline is something we’ve been doing for quite awhile, and it provides a wonderful way to give background to the reader to explore the history of an issue visually. This is something we’ve received lot’s of positive feedback on. Now with this tool, we can create timelines more easily because it is built right in. Just like the mapping tool, we can make the timeline a stand-a-lone feature as well.

Q: What is next for CFR and its interactives?

A: One of the things we are really excited about with the launch of the InfoGuides is that we don’t have to just focus on topics that are elevated to the status of a “crisis.” We can tell stories about topics that are of national and international concern and interest. This opens up our options tremendously for the topics we can cover and I think you’re going to see a lot of different approaches to how we can tell a story because the tool is so flexible.

As far as the technical side, it was never our intention to let all of this development sit there stagnant. We want to continue iterate and build upon this tool to make it better, stronger and more feature rich.

Thanks so much for speaking with us Jeremy!

To learn more about how we built this interactive publishing tool, check out our portfolio piece.


Molly Fitzgerald