Q&A: Philip Trippenbach, freelance interactive producer

In our latest speaker Q&A we talk to Philip Trippenbach about his start in journalism, his work as a freelance interactive producer, and about how video games are closely related to more traditional forms of journalism.

Philip’s background is in television news production, and he has worked for CBC in Montreal and for the BBC in London. He currently designs interactive projects for media clients in the UK and blogs at

He will be taking part in our panel discussion on What’s next for the niche? – Tools, techniques and platforms specialist journalists should be looking towards. Follow this link to see the full news:rewired agenda.

Click here to purchase tickets for news:rewired – the nouveau niche.

Tell us a bit about yourself, how did you first get into the journalism industry?

I studied international development and environment at McGill in Montreal before doing a Master of Journalism degree at Carleton university in Ottawa. It’s an intensely practical, two-year course where I specialised in broadcast journalism. I had to work for free for a variety of outlets to get my foot in the door – mostly the CBC in Montreal, Toronto and New York. When I moved to the UK, I had a couple of scoops under my belt, but still had to start at the bottom as a runner and work my way up, first with a few indies and then eventually at the BBC.

What does your day-to-day work as an interactive producer involve?

I design projects that use interactivity to increase people’s understanding of the world. That means that I’m usually up to my earlobes in research on a given topic, just like any other journalist. At the moment I’m doing a piece on social class, so I’m reading a lot of anthropology and sociology books and articles and talking with experts on the subject. But instead of using that research to design a documentary or a magazine piece, I design interactive pieces that can transmit all that knowledge. The key there is finding a procedural characteristic of the issue in question that can be reproduced in an abstract model. Then it’s a question of designing an experience where the public can learn through doing something, as opposed to watching, reading or listening. That’s the design part of the job. The other part of the job is the actual producing part, which means working with and coordinating a team of specialists – programmers, artists, researchers, etc. – to actually build the piece.

You’re also a game designer, why did you move from journalism toward game designing? Are the two related?

Definitely. Journalism is about learning: it’s about conveying new information to people. There are three ways to learn: lecturing, storytelling, and play. Of the three, play is the most powerful. Games allow us to immerse ourselves in a situation or issue and see how it works from the inside, in an involved way. There’s nothing like a game to explain how a system works, whether it’s the national budget, climate change or immigration policy. All of those are big, important things – and almost impossible to make a good article or film about. But in a game, it’s much clearer.

What will you be talking about at news:rewired?

I think that video games are an under-used genre for mainstream journalists. There are loads of examples where the power of games has been used to make a point, to convince people, and even simply to inform. This is a rich field for journalists to explore. As media habits are changing, there’s every reason to want to get your journalism out to people through games. Most people play games now, so it makes sense to reach them there. And as production and distribution systems have become more flexible, it’s increasingly possible for smaller companies or independent journalists to get in on this medium.

Are there any particular tools or online platforms you think are vital to specialist journalists?

Not so much a tool as a skill: collective intelligence. That’s the most vital skill.

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