Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Don't wait until the end of the reporting to think multimedia

When it comes to multimedia, journalists should think out a story in an inverted pyramid. But we don’t, especially in investigative or enterprise stories.

We’re used to digging for the story over days, weeks, and months. Yes, some of have spent years on a story. We’ve got piles of documents, stacks of notebooks, and we’re ready to write. Then the online producer asks, “What else have you got?”

Too many times, multimedia and the web packages become an after thought. Unlike the normal path ofinvestigative stories, when you’re ready to write, it’s often too late to be thinking multimedia.

Mark S. Luckie, whose blog 10,000 Words provides a great resource for multimedia journalists, says investigative reporters need to think in terms of how the web can help them tell there stories.

“The web serves as an all-encompassing platform for publishing interactive maps, multimedia stories built in Flash or other software, video, audio and other forms of media besides text,” Luckie wrote on The Muckraker Blog for the Center for Investigative Reporting.

But we have to think of them as we report the story, not at the end.

“The responsibility, however, requires the judgment to know which media is appropriate for a particular story. For example, interactive maps are great, but they aren't appropriate for every story,” Luckie writes.

As we gather documents and notes on a story, we ought to be thinking in terms of video clips and recording audio during interviews that we could turn into multimedia later. Also, keep feeding your web producer bits that could make an interactive map or timeline.

I’m in the middle of a long-term investigative project. As with these kinds of stories, I’m not certain where it will lead. The other day, one of our interns was helping with research. She had gathered a mountain of papers. Somewhere in all that paperwork, we expect to find the story. I pulled out a video camera and shot a minute of her working with all that paper.

We may never use it, just like we don’t use a lot of the notes we take. But I’ve filed it away in a box where I will keep multimedia for the project, just in case.

Update: ProPublica has a great example of how web tools can exaplain complex information with its map on the unemployment insurance drain.


  1. This kind of thinking is completely cart before horse. The story is the important thing and the responsibility of the Journalist is the truth. Whether the story will attract online advertising revenue is for the sales people and management to worry about. The public dont need an interactive map, a flash ap, a youtube video or any other gimmicks, bells or whistles, what they need are the facts.

    This story reminds me of Virgin Trains, the attitude seems to be who cares if the train works as long as we stack a large variety of sythetic drinks and snacks.

    Interactive maps? Get a life.

  2. Of course, story is the most important, but equally so is finding the best way to tell that story. I don't think anyone mentioned online advertising revenue. It's more about reader experience and using tools to help make data and the information more understandable and a richer experience for the reader.