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When Multimedia Buries the Story

19 June 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on AboutFreelanceWriting.com

These days, multimedia skills are almost as important as writing. Whether you are a blogger, journalist, editor or author, chances are that your work is enhanced by good photography, sound and video.

You may feel intimated by all the skills to learn in the new multimedia landscape, skills such as HTML coding, linking, search engine optimization, photography, video shooting and editing and so on.

I certainly did. Until I, too, learned those skills and realized the difference between multimedia and storytelling.

It became crystal clear to me while judging a journalism contest two months ago. The contest was organized by the Society of Professional Journalists www.spj.org, and I got to judge the online news categories.

For one of the categories, I had no problem choosing the first and second place winners. Those stories showcased original reporting, strong writing, excellent photography, solid video shooting, and great general use of the Web.

I took some time to decide on the third-place winner. Finally, I chose a reporting team with a series of stories featuring many subjects, cutting-edge videos and dazzling Flash presentations.

But as I started to type their name into the third-place slot, I stopped. Something just wasn’t right. They seemed like the obvious winner, and I could imagine the whole group of them cheering loudly at the awards ceremony. But as I listened to my heart, I had to admit that I just didn’t like the stories.

I went back and read the other stories again. This time, another story series caught my eye. I had liked it the first time around, but was not as impressed by the video. Only one reporter had done this series, but the stories and multimedia required deep reporting and significant storytelling skills.

As I studied the two candidates, I realized that I had been attracted to the first set because of its strong multimedia components. But the stories lacked coherence and relevance. The stories got lost in the multimedia.

The second set, however, was more subtle with its multimedia, but the stories themselves were compelling and significant. The multimedia supported the stories.

In the third-place slot, I punched in the name of this more subdued journalist and completed the judging.

Multimedia journalists often ask, “Which multimedia can best tell the story?” No one ever asks, “Which story can best tell the multimedia?”

It’s easy to get lost in multimedia. We have to remember to tell the story.

Follow Helen on Twitter @helenchang.

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