In 2017, simply using words to tell your stories will no longer cut it if you plan to hold your readers’ attention. And why would you want to limit yourself, when the storytelling possibilities offered by digital media are truly endless?
Luckily, creating eye-catching multimedia stories for the web doesn’t have to be a costly endeavor. In fact, many of the tools you’ll find online are available for free — or at least have a “freemium” version that you can use in lieu of a paid version.
Here’s a roundup of some of the most essential online multimedia freebies to get you started:
Digital storytelling and aggregation
Adobe’s SparkPage allows you to tell dynamic, visually driven stories for the web. When a picture tells 1,000 words, SparkPage puts the focus on photography — so this is a great tool for photojournalists who like to let their cameras do the talking. And if you’re already using Adobe products, you can seamlessly link SparkPage to your Adobe Creative Cloud account to work from anywhere.
In the social media age, journalists and citizens alike often deliver updates on breaking news situations like protests and riots via Twitter. But not everyone is on Twitter — in fact, Twitter’s user base is about a third the size of Facebook’s. That’s where Storify, a tool for organizing tweets and other social media posts into embeddable stories, comes in handy.
Storyform, much like SparkPage, is a great platform for building stunning, image-driven stories — yet Storyform generally allows for more text and has video capabilities. The platform uses artificial intelligence to match up your words, photos and videos with the optimal layout. This demo is a great example of what Storyform is capable of doing. The basic version is free, but users can upgrade to a paid version for more features.
Steller is a neat app for anyone looking to turn their photos, videos and text into mobile-optimized stories. When the average person spends 3 hours and 15 minutes on their smartphone every day, producing stories geared for mobile just makes sense. Available for iOS and Android phones.
Not just for mixtapes and remixes, SoundCloud has also become popular among podcasters who host their audio on the site, as you can embed audio clips into any article or webpage. Even if you aren’t an avid podcaster, you can still use SoundCloud to insert short audio clips of interviews into your stories.
This tool allows readers to play audio clips during a selected line of text, something which SoundCite calls “inline audio.” Giving your readers the ability to read and listen at the same time can help make certain stories more vivid -- for example, stories about protests could use SoundCite to embed audio clips of what the demonstrations actually sound like, or stories that refer to a type of music can embed a clip of song. It looks like this:
Charts, graphs and data visualizations
Hohli lets you build pie charts, bar graphs and more according to the Google Charts API. The tool is fairly simple and user-friendly — no advanced coding knowledge required. Simply input your data, hit “generate,” and embed your new visualization into your article.
Another intuitive, easy-to-use graphing tool, Datawrapper generates interactive, responsive visualizations in minutes. Datawrapper also lets you customize your visualizations, so you can make sure your graphs’ branding and colors matches that of your newsroom. The free version allows up to 10,000 chart views per month, with other paid options available.
ThingLink is a neat tool that lets you turn any print graphic, such as an infographic, into an interactive image. Glen Mulcahy, innovation lead for RTE, has used Thinglink to highlight his favorite mobile journalism hardware, apps and accessories. The free version includes the image editor and up to 10,000 views per month; paid versions grant access to Thinglink’s video and 360°/VR image editors.
Eko Studio is a free interactive storytelling tool that lets your readers and viewers “shape the story” as it’s being told. If you’re intrigued by the idea of telling compelling multimedia stories with which people can interact, it’s worth checking out.
Google Maps isn’t just for finding your way around town; you can also use it to generate embeddable maps to illustrate your reporting. Simply select the map segment you’d like to use, then click “share or embed map” from the drop-down menu. You’ll then get an embed code that you can insert into your CMS.
Google Maps Engine goes a step further, allowing you to add layers on top of a base map that show different data. You can choose between a political map, a satellite map and more for your base map. The tool also allows you to draw lines, add markers, add directions and measure distances. Best of all? You can create as many maps as you like, and make changes to ones you’ve previously created.
If Google’s map tools don’t sufficiently illustrate your story, ZeeMaps might be right for you. The tool includes features for building heat maps, adding multimedia, creating custom markers and much more.
StoryMap, another project of the Northwestern University Knight Lab, is useful for mapping out series of events that happen over a certain time period, making it easy to craft overarching narratives as a result. It’s been used to map everything from the expansion of the Islamic State to Arya Stark’s adventures on Game of Thrones.
Timelines are a great way to briefly touch upon the events leading up to, or during, a news event you’re covering. Timetoast lets you create interactive timelines that are easy to customize and share. You can view your timelines along a more traditional horizontal view, or you can arrange it as a vertical list instead.
Another tool for building interactive timelines, TimelineJS allows for more visually rich timelines and also lets you import media and data from a wide variety of sources. It’s been used by Le Monde to chronicle this year’s French presidential election, by CNN to illustrate North Korea’s history of nuclear ambition and more.
Main image CC-licensed by Flickr via UN Geneva.