On August 15th, 2012, a six-wheeled remotely operated rover named Curiosity touched down on Mars. In “The Martian Diaries: What if the Curiosity rover kept a scrapbook?” authored and designed by ScienceNews, a non-profit organisation dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, the Curiosity rover’s scientific discoveries are presented in a form of multimedia journalism and fictive “first person” accounts from Curiosity. The Martian Diaries are an example of a growing genre of immersive multimedia journalism, where non-fiction facts, first-person accounts, and news are presented in multimodal formats which are engaging readers in new experiences (Silvia & Anzur, 2011).
The Martian Diaries are a ‘scrapbook’ of entries chronicling the Curiosity rover’s work on Mars. While the story content is itself exciting and interesting – it presents scientific material on the forefront of human exploration and discovery – the real magic here is that the story unfolds via the Curiosity rover itself, endowed with an anthropomorphic, jaunty 21st Century colloquial voice. The language used is playful and memetic, couching the scientific jargon in an accessible, interesting form. The story of Curiosity unfolds much like that of a classic adventure story: Curiosity is scared at the start of the adventure, and people worry about it back home, but nevertheless it sets off on its epic journey towards the “tall and rough” Mount Sharp in the distance, numerous adventures and missteps between itself and the goal. Chronicle entries along the way expand on these adventures: detailing new finds (evidence of past water), problems (radiation levels), potential uses for the discoveries, detecting organics, and signs that Mars might be habitable. Curiosity remediates pop culture (Allen, 2001); song lyrics and phrases from classic novels along the way, creates new language (yestersol, rather than yesterday) and even bemoans the lack of an iPhone to take a good selfie. These elements make Curiosity relatable, creating an emotional attachment and engaging the reader in a scientific story which may have otherwise been presented as a sterile, technical report.
The digital affordances of the medium are well leveraged. Each entry contains a transmedia mixture of multimodal features: images taken from the Curiosity, panoramas, slideshows, videos, links to the official NASA press releases, maps, diagrams, computer generated predictions, and explanatory animated gifs. These serve to illustrate and extend the scientific concepts introduced in the accompanying story. Most significantly however, the Curiosity rover shows it is a skilled and literate member of online 21st Century life by having an active Twitter profile. As Curiosity was “doing cool science” on Mars, NASA was tweeting in real time as the rover, and select tweets are embedded in the beginning of each chronicle entry. The statistics on the tweets are astounding – some have over 8000 retweets and 5000 likes, showing the extent to which interested public participated in this first-person pseudo-narrative. Readers here are positioned not just as passive consumers but active participants in the journalism, co-creating the story as it emerges (Lorenzo, Oblinger, & Dziuban, 2007; Van Dijck, 2009). The Curiosity rover replied to tweets at the time and is in fact still tweeting, you can “follow” the account to catch updates, and read the replies of others to the Curiosity, discovering a deeper range of perspective and opinion (Serafini, 2013).
The Martian Diaries is housed on an open-access website, so in terms of usability and accessibility all that’s required is an internet connection and a browser. No advertisements or distractions appear, which can often plague online reading (Liu, 2005). The chronicle entries consist of simple, centrally laid out elements which are easy to navigate. Upon loading a reader is greeted with a full-page image of the Curiosity rover looking at you with two quizzically mechanical eyes reminiscent of Pixar’s Wall-E; the design choice here immediately building empathy and relationship with the Curiosity character. A helpful menu floats at the top of the screen, staying in place as you scroll down from which you can select the different chronicle entries. This allows flexibility and a non-linear means of accessing the content if a reader wishes, an important feature to have available in digital environments (Liu, 2005).
In terms of alignment to the curriculum, The Martian Diaries could be used as an information resource if students are inquiring into explorations, technical advancement and robotics, human futures, or scientific concepts such as geology, radiation, atmosphere, molecules, chemicals, or minerals. More generally, The Martian Diaries is an example of immersive multimedia journalism, and could be explored and studied as an transmedia artifact (Lamb, 2011). Some key questions might be: how well does the integration of different multimodal elements work? What affordances does the Twitter integration create? How is the “scientific load” softened? How is reader given flexibility and choice?
Of course, overall, The Martian Diaries can be enjoyed for it’s own sake – as an exciting piece of multimedia journalism about discovery and exploration.
Allen, N. (2001). Telling our stories in new ways. Retrieved from http://williamwolff.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/allen-cc-2001-review.pdf
Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.
Lorenzo, G., Oblinger, D., & Dziuban, C. (2007). How choice, co-creation, and culture are changing what it means to be net savvy. Educause Quarterly, 30(1), 6.
Serafini, F. (2013). Reading Workshop 2.0. Reading Teacher, 66(5), 401-404.
Silvia, T., & Anzur, T. (2011). Power performance: multimedia storytelling for journalism and public relations. John Wiley & Sons.
Van Dijck, J. (2009). Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content. Media, culture, and society, 31(1), 41.
Ziming Liu, (2005) Reading behavior in the digital environment: Changes in reading behavior over the past ten years. Journal of Documentation, 61(6), 700 – 712.