Elements of good multimedia storytelling
At its simplest, a multimedia story combines different elements that complement one another to make the story more interesting, complete or compelling.
Multimedia storytelling often refers to a blurring of boundaries between media online: newspapers and magazines post video, radio stations post graphics and text, TV outlets offering text along with video and maps. Reporters are no longer bound by their medium, but can draw on the strength of all to tell a better story.
Here are some elements of good multimedia storytelling.
Multimedia stories take advantage of the strengths of each medium:
- Video to show action (teens skateboarding, high school wrestling, a chef cooking), capture strong quotes (witnesses at an accident site, a cancer survivor talking about her ordeal) or take viewers somewhere they wouldn’t have access to (behind the scenes at a concert) or places they would want to visit (a Disneyland ride, the World Cup).
- Photos to capture strong emotion or a key moment in time (a mother reunites with a long lost child, someone talks about losing their home). Pictures still are often worth a thousand words.
- Audio to capture compelling quotes (a veteran talking about the battlefield, a mother talking about a child) or telling “ambient” sound (the din in a crowded restaurant, music, stadium cheers, construction noise, gunfire).
- Graphics to show complicated processes (how a bill moves through Congress, how a new surgery works) or complex data (employment figures, population percentages in cities) in an easy-to-understand format.
Here are a few examples of how different news outlets have used different media to tell stories in ways they could not have told them even a few years ago:
Good use of video and photo. There’s very little text with this Orange County (Calif.) Register package on the foreclosure crisis in that area. The photographer wrote a short intro to the story, then used video to take readers on a ride on the “foreclosure bus,” in which potential buyers toured foreclosed houses. The package includes a photo slideshow of foreclosed homes that have been abandoned and vandalized, to finish painting the picture of the foreclosure crisis in this California community. Notice that the paper also included links in the package to related text stories in the Register. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/photos-17815-slideshow-gallery.html#article-comments
Good use of audio and interactive elements. First-person accounts can be very compelling. In this example, the New York Times lets people who suffering from 34 different medical conditions talk in their own words about how they live with their conditions. Several people are interviewed for each condition and each has his or her own audio slideshow: simple pictures with the subject’s voice. There is no narration; the reporters are invisible. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/09/10/health/Patient_Voices.html
Good use of maps/text/graphs. The Miami Herald offers several relatively simple graphics to help readers grasp complex issues in a visual, easy-to-understand way.
There are many examples on the newspaper’s site, but check out this multi-page series of graphs that show readers how the recession affected South Florida in 2007; this timeline, which tells the history of the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba, with pictures of key players along the way; and this graphic that shows the different ways officials were trying to stop the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, with details on each method.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune documented how Hurricane Katrina inundated the city in 2005 with a more ambitious graphic. The interactive map can be found at http://www.nola.com/katrina/graphics/index.ssf?flashflood . A range of multimedia and interactive projects about Katrina can be found at the Times-Picayune’s page dedicated to the historic hurricane and its aftermath, at http://www.nola.com/katrina/.
This post was originally part of an online course by ICFJ Anywhere, which supports journalists worldwide with free training on a range of topics. Courses are offered in a variety of languages including English, Arabic, Persian, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish and French. For the latest ICFJ Anywhere course offerings, click here.