Picking the Right Media for a Story

Tutorial: Picking the Right Media for a Story


One of the toughest decisions a multimedia reporter must make is what type of media would best be used to tell a particular story.

Should you shoot it in video? Would a photo camera and audio recorder to create a photo slideshow be better? Is this just a text story with a photo?

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of these different types of media, and how to match those up with different kinds of stories, will help you sort this out.

This tutorial takes you through the different types of media – video, photos, audio, graphics/maps and text – and the kinds of stories or characteristics of stories that lend themselves to the different kinds of media.

These aren’t hard and fast rules – just general guides to help you make intelligent choices about when to take a video camera, a photo camera, etc. on a story.

Note: this tutorial is an outline developed for an Intro Multimedia Bootcamp Class at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.


Here are the types of stories or aspects of stories that lend themselves to video:

Action – natural disasters, sporting events, dance performances, etc. Examples:

Central place in a story – video takes you there and gives you a sense of what a place is like.

Central characters in a story – video lets you see and hear them and how they behave.  Especially use video if they’re interesting or animated.

Drama – not so much an emotional moment, but a story that’s part of larger drama. Examples:

Humor – think about the most popular videos on YouTube. Examples:

Kids – especially if there’s a group of them interacting. Examples:

Animals – People love to see how animals act. Examples:

Crimes and crime scenes – it almost doesn’t matter how boring the crime scene is or how bad the video is, many people will want to watch it

Food – video engages the senses. So use video for food preparation or eating, not necessarily for recipes (recipes might be text with a video to illustrate how to prepare the food)

How things work or how to do something – video is good for showing simple processes, such as things with moving parts.

Raw Video – people really like raw video that provides an unfiltered look of what happened, especially on a breaking news story.

Readings and Resources


Here are the types of stories or aspects of stories that lend themselves to photos:

Reflection – if it’s a story you want someone to reflect on, or a moment you want people to ponder that can be captured in a photo. Examples:

Emotions – photos are good for stories that are very emotional. Photos can evoke strong emotions.

Central characters in a story – if you want the viewer to reflect on who the person is, rather than seeing how they behave. A photograph gives the viewer a sense of a person. Examples:

Central place in a story – a photograph gives you a sense of a place, but with the opportunity to reflect on it. It’s more intimate than using video. Thus if there’s a natural disaster, you might take the viewer there with video while things are happening, and then use photos to take the viewer to the scene in the aftermath, so the viewer can reflect on what happened. Panoramas are sometimes a very effective way of taking the viewer to a place and immersing them in it. Examples:

Readings and Resources


Here are the types of stories or aspects of stories that lend themselves to audio:

Emotions – audio is good for stories that are particularly emotional. The human voice especially evokes emotion.

Creating a mood – audio will set the tone on a story.

Reflection – audio is good for a story you want someone to reflect on, think about and ponder by listening, rather than watching a video as things go by.

Sense of a person – hearing someone’s voice gives you a sense of who they are and creates an emotional attachment to them.

Central place in a story – audio can take you to a place – in your head. Thus ambient sound such as common, easily recognizable sounds can  take someone to a place.

If you compare the kinds of stories that lend themselves to audio with those that are good for photos, you’ll see a lot of similarities. That’s one reason why photo slideshows with audio can be very effective – the two types of media complement each other. Examples:

Readings and Resources

Databases, Graphics and Maps

Here are the types of stories or aspects of stories that lend themselves to data visualizations, databases or maps:

Statistics and data – displaying data in graphics or on maps makes it easier for readers to digest and fun to explore. Examples:

How things work or how to do something – graphics are especially good for describing complex processes (video better for

Where humans can’t go – stories about space, microbiology, etc. Examples:

History – timelines are especially effective ways of showing historical events

Geo-locational events and stories – can be plotted on a map so the viewer immediately has a sense of where something happened or can obtain information for a particular place.

Practical and personal – data that people can personalize and use in their everyday lives.

Readings and Resources


Here are the types of stories or aspects of stories that lend themselves to text:

Background information – a FAQ can be a very effective way to give people background information. Examples:

  • Remnants of War – UC Berkeley Journalism School student project – click on the FAQs link

Analysis and explanation

Pros and cons of an issue

History – although a graphical timeline can be more effective

Thumbnails for profiles – biographical facts about people in a story

Summaries – especially important with a multimedia package. Include a text box to tell people what the package or a particular page is all about. Examples:

Breaking news – the quickest way to get information out, and the most efficient way for people to scan it for what’s happening now. Examples:

Readings and Resources

Related Links

Readings and Resources

Here are some additional resources and readings on how to pick the best type of media for a story:

Also check out these examples of multimedia stories to see how different types of media were used to tell different aspects of a story.

Or spend time studying the multimedia packages on these sites:

About this Tutorial

This tutorial is what we’ve learned from reviewing innumerable multimedia projects done by students in classes at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and by journalists in our Knight Digital Media Center multimedia training workshops.

A special acknowledgment to Jane Stevens, who developed some of the ideas in this guide. See her Berkeley Advanced Media Institute tutorial on Multimedia Storytelling, especially the section on Storyboarding.

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