taxonomy of digital story packages

Christmas Tree

The Christmas Tree refers to a form of multimedia storytelling in which the main story is text presented as a linear narrative, while links to multimedia elements like videos, photo slideshows, maps and graphics are just add-ons, placed to the side of the main text story like ornaments hung on a tree (credit to Regina McCombs, formerly a multimedia producer with the Minneapolis Star Tribune and now with the Poynter Institute, who first used the term "Christmas Tree" in describing this kind of story).

Because the multimedia is stacked on the side, it isn't designed to be read in an integrated way with the text narrative (unless links to the multimedia are also embedded in the text story). So the multimedia is usually viewed after reading the main text story. Thus multimedia is placed a secondary role as a decoration for the main text story.

Here are some examples:

Blackhawk Down

Blackhawk Down

The Philadelphia Inquirer published the Blackhawk Down series in 1997 on the ill-fated U.S. military mission to Somalia.

The text stories are in a column on the right, while the multimedia elements - video, audio, maps and graphics - are hung on the left (although links to the multimedia also are embedded in the text stories, so this story package is an early version of the embedded multimedia approach as well).

A Toxic Pipeline

A Toxic Pipeline is a Pulitzer-prize-winning series published by the New York Times in 2008 about poisonous pharmaceutical products being exported out of China. The print stories are in the main column on the left, while the multimedia - videos, graphics and a map - are stacked on the right.


Fracking is a series of stories that ProPublica, the investigative journalism project, has done on the environmental threat posed by this form of natural gas drilling. The main stories are text and are in the wide center column on the page. The multimedia elements are stacked in the column on the left (scroll down the page to see them).

Other investigative series published by ProPublica usually follow the same format.

Investigations of disabled

Sloppy investigations leave abuse of disabled unsolved is part of a series by the Center for Investigative Reporting on the failure of police at state institutions for the developmentally disabled to properly investigate patient abuse. The stories were published on CIR's California Watch website.

The multimedia is in a column on the right, along with links to related stories and to versions of the article publshed at other online news sites.


Frontline, the public television documentary show, uses the Christmas Tree structure for its stories, but the video is the main element or trunk on the page. Select a video story and below it you'll see additional multimedia segments, such as interactive maps or graphics, photo slideshows, other videos or text stories.