the transition to digital journalism

Multimedia Storytelling

Many journalists entered the profession for a simple reason - a love of storytelling.

The enjoyment of a good narrative also appears to be something that is hard-wired into the human brain. See the Scientific American article on "The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn."

The Internet has raised concerns that digital media will spell doom for the narrative, replaced by constant bursts of information lacking any context and a flood of raw video and data. Younger people in particular are said to lack the attention span for reading in-depth stories and are supposedly turned off by long and complex narratives.

But the reverse may actually be the case. A 2008 study of 18 to 34 year olds by Context-Based Research Group found they suffered from "news fatigue, meaning they were overloaded with facts and updates and had trouble connecting to more in-depth stories. Participants yearned for quality and in-depth reporting, but had difficulty immediately accessing such content."

Another study by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation and Northwestern University's Media Management Center found that teens want background information and context for stories, as well as visuals like photos and graphics to make the content more compelling.

Rather than undermining the traditional narrative, the Internet is an opportunity to experiment with multi-dimensional storytelling and new narrative approaches that provide context and depth and also are more compelling and engaging.

So instead of a single linear narrative, a story can be broken up into a series of narratives organized as topical subsections that people can explore according to their own interests.

See, for example, this study by Nora Paul and Kathleen A. Hansen at the University of Minnesota that tested five different forms of storytelling, including a more traditional narrative, news games and a topic oriented presentation. The topic approach was "by far the favorite approach of those we tested," and people who used this format also were "most likely to say they learned something new about the topic."

By dividing a story into topical segments in this way, different aspects of stories then can be told in different media formats - text, video, audio, photo slideshows, graphics - that are most appropriate to the specific topic, making storytelling more engaging. Check out our tutorial on Multimedia Storytelling to learn more about this approach to putting together a more comprehensive multimedia presentation.

The best multimedia storytelling presents content in the type of media most appropriate to the nature of the story being told. See our tutorial on Picking the Right Media for Reporting a Story on how to take advantage of the different characteristics of video, audio, photos, text and other media forms.

For a successful multimedia package, see the Boston Globe's 7-part series on Ted Kennedy, that received 2.5 million pageviews the month it was published in February 2009.

The package included video stories as centerpieces, long text articles, photo slideshows and other background materials (two of the Globe staff members who worked on the story, Thea Breit and Scott Lapierre, attended the Knight Digital Media Center multimedia training workshops in March 2006 and May 2005, respectively). See the Nieman Journalism Lab article on the Globe's package: For the Boston Globe’s Kennedy series, video is dominant.

For examples of the many different approaches that news organizations and journalists have taken to online storytelling, see our Taxonomy of Digital Story Packages guide.

Multimedia Story Sites

Check out the multimedia packages cataloged at these sites to see how they use different types of media.

Readings and Resources

Presentation Links - Multimedia Storytelling I

Presentation Links - Multimedia Storytelling II