Source of multimedia examples

The Online News Association is behind the re-launch of a site devoted to showcasing multimedia journalism.  According to ONA president Jonathan Dube, Interactive Narratives is worth checking out.

The new Interactive Narratives is designed to capture the best of online visual storytelling around the country and the world. The goal is to highlight rich-media content, engaging storytelling and eye-popping design in an environment that fosters interaction, discussion and learning.

The site is open to anyone wanting to post examples and it should be a terrific resource for anyone looking for ideas on how to produce strong multimedia content.

Tornado damage map

Des Moines Register tornado mapAfter a tornado wiped out a third of a nearby town on Memorial Day, the Des Moines Register created an interactive map on its Web site that lets users “see the breathtaking scope of the disaster house-by-house, with photos and stories from the survivors.” The map is color-coded to show the level of damage, and overlaid with icons that link to photos, video and stories.

The newspaper asked people in Parkersburg to submit stories and photos. Many sent in “before” pictures of what their homes looked like before the tornado hit. They’re posted alongside photos of what was left after the storm.

The stories are short vignettes–some from readers themselves–about how they survived the storm, how their neighbors helped, and what they plan to do now. As Angela Grant points out over at News Videographer, it’s an “awesome way to serve the community with multimedia.”

The full package goes even deeper, linking to slide shows, 360-degree panoramas and and existing features on the site.  The paper’s Iowa Tornado Tracker is a Google map mash-up showing the location of every tornado in Iowa since 1976.   Each pushpin on the map gives details on the storm and has a link inviting readers to “Click here to tell your story.”  There’s also a link to information on how to help tornado victims, but unfortunately, it’s not working at the moment.

UPDATE: The Register received an honorable mention for this project in the prestigious Knight-Batten award competition.  At a National Press Club symposium honoring the winners, managing editor Randy Brubaker said the multimedia feature was designed to “blend information with emotional impact.”

With TV news or still photos in the paper you see one or two houses, or aerials, but when you can look at before/after pictures, house by house, you can almost see your house. One of these houses is like yours and you can begin to understand what it does to your life.

One of the most riveting segments in the feature is a brief video from the surveillance cameras at First State Bank that somehow survived the storm.  You can see the tornado slam into the building; the exterior camera captured the storm peeling the roof off a neighboring house.

It’s not just amazing video; it’s a testament to how multimedia has changed the reporting process, especially for newspaper reporters.  Brubaker told me his 5-person reporting team was briefed in advance to make sure to ask everyone they met in Parkersburg if they had any video.  That preparation definitely paid off in a spectacular “get.”

So add this suggestion to your tool bag when you set off to cover a natural disaster: Don’t just ask for home video.  Go after footage from robo-cameras installed everywhere from banks to convenience stores to schools.  You never know what you might find.

Compelling newspaper video

The talented team at the Raleigh News & Observer has done it again. Their online multimedia companion to a five-part print series on mental health reform gives users multiple ways to explore the story. Photojournalist Travis Long’s video is compelling, Judson Drennan’s interactive map breaks down spending county-by-county and Valerie Aguirre’s flash graphics bring the data to life.

The splash screen does a pretty good job of letting users know what they’ll get when they click a selection (“play the movie,” for example, is clearer than the standard “video” link). My only quibbles: I’d like to know how long the video is before I commit to watching it. And I’d like to know what “tour state hospitals” gets you–turns out to be slide shows. I love the fact that they’ve integrated both the photos and graphics from the print series into the online presentation so you can browse through them as well.

The video is one of those stories that transcends a lack of “great video” by making excellent use of sound bites, full screen graphics in lieu of narration and original documents. The audio is excellent–something that’s often a weak point in online video. The opening montage is just the right length and uses music effectively, but the interviews are the heart of the 6-and-a-half minute piece. Best decision: letting the Q-and-A with the head of the state hospital system run for a full 50 seconds. Well worth watching.

Hidden cameras make a comeback

Did they ever really go away? SPJ’s Jon Marshall contends that hidden cameras fell out of favor in TV newsrooms after the ABC News-Food Lion case in 1992. On his NewsGems blog, Marshall writes, “Fortunately, it looks like they’ve made a strong comeback as part of some great stories.” His post highlights three recent stories that made extensive use of hidden cameras: D.C. Metal Detectors (Fox5, Washington); Juiced in the Valley (ABC15, Phoenix); and Aged Tires (ABC News). See if you think their use of undercover video follows these guidelines:

  • The story involves matters of vital public concern, prevention of profound harm, or system failure
  • Any harm caused by deception is outweighed by the harm prevented by the story
  • The undercover video is essential and brings real value

For more guidance on using hidden cameras, check these legal protocols and ethics standards from RTNDA and Poynter.

The best of the Web

If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then you might want to consider complimenting the winners of the 2008 EPpy Awards by imitating them.  At the very least, you’ll want to check out what some of these folks are doing online.

The EPpys are awarded by Editor & Publisher to honor superior online content.  Feel free to view them all, but we suggest that you pay particular attention to some of the top local TV winners.  The following were finalists for Best Overall Local TV Web Site:

And take a look at some of the terrific enterprise reporting at some of the smaller news organizations honored.  (These are folks that probably don’t have a tremendous amount of resources, yet they manage to do award-winning work.) 

Take a look at how the winners listed above leverage the power of multimedia to make their stories more complete and more compelling than they could have been in a single medium.

Chopper video online

Air Fox LiveTake one news helicopter, stir in some GPS data, add a Google map, and what you get is a mash-up that TechCrunch calls “uniquely informative eye-candy.”  It’s from the Fox station in Chicago, which is now streaming video online from “Air Fox Live” during the “Good Day Chicago” morning show and any time the chopper is up during breaking news.  The helicopter’s GPS data plots its location on a Google map.  And there may be more to come.  “We want to create a map that shows all the Fox helicopters and all the live feeds at once…but this is a good beginning,” says news director Andrew Finlayson. The station previously set up LiveNewsCameras, where you can watch live video feeds from stations all over the country (not just Fox stations).

TV investigation online

MyFoxDC--FBI FilesThe Fox station in Washington, D.C. has a terrific online supplement to its two-part TV series, MIsmanaged Secrets, about FBI record-keeping. The Web extras include .pdf copies of FBI files on famous Washingtonians, along with a brief bio for each person. There’s also an annotated page that decodes FBI symbols and shorthand, instructions on how to request your own FBI file or someone else’s, and an explanation from reporter Tisha Thompson, “Why we did the story.”

“Locative” news

Add another acronym to your journalism glossary. Students in the New Media Publishing Project at Northwestern University’s j-school are testing LoJo, or “locative journalism” and blogging about it at Lojoconnect. As students Ki Mae Heussner and Amy Lee explain it on MediaShift, “locative storytelling provides multimedia content that enhances a user’s connection to a given place.”

How does it work? Sort of like an audio tour at a museum, the students say, only more mobile. If you have a GPS-equipped cell phone, for example, your location could automatically trigger news and information developed specifically for that place.

After doing some research, the students decided that “the kinds of stories best suited to this approach are tied to locations with historical significance or idiosyncratic characteristics.” The team is now working on stories related to Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics. Among the technical issues they’ve encountered:

Tall buildings and wind can cause GPS drift and jitter, which makes it difficult to anchor and trigger certain points along the tour…

If there’s too much lag time between locations, participants will see an empty black screen on the GPS device until they enter an area with multimedia content. Extra content is pivotal to keep people engaged while they’re moving between locations.

Other technical problems include software incompatibility and screens that are hard to see outdoors. As for content:

While much of the emphasis, so far, on content for portable devices has been on video, audio might be a more valuable format for mobile storytelling because people use portable devices while doing other things (walking, driving, etc.).

So how would a newsroom use this technology? The LoJo team suggests that GPS-based storytelling could supplement blogs and hyper-local news sites “as a way for people to become more engaged with news that’s directly relevant to them and their communities.” But the students concede that GPS technology raises a few concerns, including privacy issues and tracking by advertisers.

News as a game

MSNBC has unveiled some innovative ways of getting the news at NewsWare, its “laboratory for news-infused games, tools and other experimentation.” Among them: two “immersive” news apps (a customizable newsreader and a screensaver), a couple of news widgets and two news arcade games.

The idea is to make news more accessible and fun. I’ve just started exploring them and here are a few reactions:

The colorful Spectra newsreader isn’t hard to set up but it’s a little confusing. I’d expected to be able to click on a rotating headline box to get more information about that story, but instead the stories pop up in a pre-determined order.

The news scroller widget seems to be easy to customize and embed in all kinds of pages, including blogs like this one on, but when I used the “post” button all I got was a link to a generic widget page. The real “embed” function requires Javascript, which doesn’t support. For PC users, the desktop version only works on Vista, which I don’t have and don’t think I want to have. Disappointing.

Then there are the games. The intended audience undoubtedly isn’t my demographic, but I have to say the NewsBlaster arcade game left me cold. Blasting “orbs” gets you headlines in a box, but unless you really want to hit pause to read them you could play an entire game without absorbing any news at all. NewsBreaker gives you more chances to actually see the headlines; they float down inside the game screen itself while you’re blasting “bricks.”

I’m not sure they’re for me, but kudos to MSNBC for experimenting.

Va. Tech multimedia tribute Roanoke Times marked the one-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech shootings with an extensive multimedia tribute, including “the sights and sounds of the events of April 16, 2008, as captured over a 24-hour period.” The “day in the life” concept is well executed, visually compelling, and deep. It includes video, time-lapse photography, blogs, maps, and reflections from survivors. There’s also a guest book where visitors to the site can add their memories and comments to those that streamed in immediately following the shootings [it now runs over 4,000 pages]. And there’s a link to the archived coverage of the events one year ago and what’s happened since. Take a look at how that coverage is organized into featured sections on wounded victims, deceased victims, investigations, the campus community, reactions and accounts of the shooting. It’s the kind of package any news organization can and should put together online for stories you can anticipate and plan for, like an anniversary.