What is multimedia storytelling?
It’s more than just a combination of text, photos, audio, video and graphics. Stories are fashioned through narrative structures, devices and techniques designed to draw the audience into the characters and events.
Inspired by the writing coach Jack Hart, who created “A Storyteller’s Lexicon” for The Oregonian newsroom, I decided to write out a multimedia storytelling vocabulary and some examples of how various news projects employ them.
Here are some of the common approaches and elements found in engaging multimedia news stories.
Anecdote – A personal account of a series of actions.
Example: Julio Diaz shares his experience of being robbed in a surprising, two-minute anecdote. (StoryCorps.org audio)
Character – An individual who undergoes change or takes action.
Example: Photographer Luis Sinco goes beyond the iconic image of the “Marlboro Marine” and takes the viewer on an intimate journey into the soldier’s emotional and psychological struggles. (MediaStorm.com audio slide show)
Complication – An event or development that forces a character to respond or react.
Example: When the Gulf Oil spill hits the small town of Venice, Louisiana, the residents must decide whether to stay or leave. (News21.com video)
Contiguity – How all of the media elements on a page or website work together. The best multimedia pieces combine text and visuals in meaningful ways and avoid extraneous elements.
Example: The Highrise Project is a series of interactive documentaries about urban residential buildings that pays particular attention to the integration of text, images, video, sound, design and animation. (National Film Board of Canada interactive documentary)
Curate – Gathering, sourcing, verifying and redistributing information or social media elements to track an event.
Example: Andrew Carvin uses Twitter to cover major international events. (NPR social media)
Data Story – An application that allows users to search and access data a variety of ways.
Example: The Dollar for Docs news application lets readers search pharmaceutical company payments to doctors. (ProPublica database)
Detail – Distinct observations, facts or moments included for the purpose of conveying character or plot.
Example: This story of the world’s largest religious festival in India is told through intimate snapshots of the spiritual pilgrims. (Bombay Flying Club)
Dialogue – Conversation between two or more characters that allows the audience to see and hear characters interacting with one another.
Example: The back-and-forth between two adult daughters and their father who has Alzheimer’s disease helps provide insight into a family’s struggle to hang on to memories. (StoryCorps audio and photo)
Dramatic question – An overarching question posed at the beginning of a story; audience wonders how it will end.
Example: An award-winning 2007 article by columnist Gene Weingarten starts with a question, “If the world’s great violinist performed incognito in a Metro station, would anyone stop and listen?” (Washington Post article and video)