The full effect: Shooting, packaging and telling a multimedia story

I believe one of the goals multimedia storytelling should be to communicate in a web-native format, using stills, audio, video, graphics, and interactivity to draw readers into a story they wouldn’t have read if it were just printed text on a page — or a screen.

Would I have any interest in this train story in the Mercury News if there wasn’t a big multimedia package attached to it?

Probably not.

But Richard Koci Hernandez and the creative people who work with him have crafted a story of personalities and economics, using multimedia as a way to communicate, not just to illustrate.

And better yet, this is cinematic stuff.

Watching the videos in this piece doesn’t feel like watching a TV documentary, or a YouTube video — it feels like a movie.

How can a smaller paper without a squadron of photographers with Flash skills and HD cameras put together this sort of thing?

Well, Soundslides and a solid audio recorder are two places to start.

Total investment? $440.

Time to learn Soundslides? 30 minutes.

Then, check out Richard’s tutorial on chaptered Soundslides, which means building a few audio slideshows and then calling them from a Flash stage that you’ve designed to go with the story, acting like a frame for your multimedia.

If you want to learn more about how the train package was put together, Richard blogged about it from concept to finished product, writing about the inspiration and thought process behind the package, if not necessarily the technical details.

And now, two nitpicks:

  • I’m dying for a comment button on either the Flash stage or the story. I know from working with a transportation reporter last summer, for every quote you put in a story about trains running on time or hours late, there are ten more stories about what happens when you miss the train, how the different transportation agencies spin the problems, how individual communities have been affected by the rise and fall of certain train lines… It just goes on like that, if you open up the story to some comment and feedback. That’s what makes something like this “interactive,” not clicking on a Next button.
  • The second nitpick is a really small one that only people who have messed around with Flash video will understand, but if I see the “Steel External All” controls one more time… Why go to all this work to create a beautiful stage and then use an all-too-familiar default play button?

I don’t think the second one detracts from the finished product at all, and while the lack of interactivity doesn’t hurt either, it makes me, as a reader, less likely to stick around longer than it takes to watch a video or two.
(Full disclosure: My paycheck comes from the same company as Richard’s these days.)


For a completely different method of packaging multimedia with an online story, check out this piece at the Lawrence-Journal World, the Kansas newspaper known as the incubator of Django, Holovaty and Curley.

Designer Jeff Croft says the piece is a first attempt at disproving the notion that “you can’t art direct stories online.”

Slideshows, videos and reader comments are mixed straight into the text story, all on the same page, which looks like it was styled just for this story.

Is this the way we’ll all be publishing feature stories online soon?  With a page designed specifically for the story, as we would have done for a big feature in print?  If you’ve got the resources (read as: time), and your templates aren’t too restrictive, then by all means, I say it’s a great way to go.

Mercury News Photo becomes a blog. Cool. redesigned while I wasn’t looking, and what popped out is a nice modern WordPress blog. Cool.

What that means, first things first, is that I (and you) can now subscribe to an RSS feed from the site. Cool.

Second things second, you can leave comments on all the slideshows, video essays, and Flash presentations on the site. Cool.

Here’s a tip, guys: The default WordPress footer has that weird link to the RSS feeds that starts with “feed://” — if you click on it from Firefox, it tries to load whatever feedreader it can find on your hard drive, which can and will confuse people. (Hey Matt, what’s the deal with that, anyway? Lorelle points out in comments that it’s the individual theme developers who choose how to display the feed URL.) Anyway, I’d love to see a link to the RSS feed in the sidebar.

Looks great guys – keep it up!