In a beautiful and brilliant approach to storytelling—using words, photos and videos—the New York Times unveiled what is arguably going to be the future of online storytelling.
Presented as a six-part story of a February 2012 avalanche at Tunnel Creek (located outside the Stevens Creek Ski Area in Washington’s Cascade Range) that swallowed up sixteen skiers and snowboarders, the feature goes beyond “just a story” to one that takes the term multimedia and turns it on its head, leading the viewer through an enriching tale that is literally interwoven with animated graphics, embedded video and layered slideshows.
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The simple process of scrolling down the page starts in motion the interactive multimedia component, be it the movement of a panorama across the page, the start of a secondary video, or unleashing the power of an animated info-graphic.
The feature opens with a full-screen silent video of blowing snow across a slope. The impression, however, is not one of a video but rather it simply sets the scene for the story. And the story begins by scrolling down the page, as the written words slowly rise to cover the blowing snow video.
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Shortly after scrolling down and reading the first part of the feature, an animated map appears automatically in the background, providing a visual reference to the story’s location. There are several embedded videos in the story, some that are spoken interviews that prompt you for a start, while others start automatically during the scrolling process, albeit silently providing just a visual reference.
Part One of the feature ends with a visual satellite view of the storm front as it moves in to hit the Cascades while the backcountry group prepares their attack on the mountain.
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The story alone is fabulous writing and an excellent narrative. All of the photographs are stunning, including the striking photos taken by members of the backcountry group. The video interviews are worthy of the best documentaries. The info-graphics exceed the standard and complement the written narrative.
To have all these elements in a single feature is in and of itself a considerable task and accomplishment. But we have grown accustomed to expect links to supplemental visual elements of the story that support the written narrative. The NYT team behind this feature cleverly crafted a visual multimedia storytelling experience for the viewer that literally walks us through the entire, dramatic story.
The use of links to stand-alone video viewers or photo slideshows can now be regarded as a “simple way” to add to the story. This NYT feature ensures that the visual package doesn’t “add to the story” but rather is part of the story.
And that is the key. That is utilizing technology to best tell the story.
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NYT executive editor Jill Abramson shared with her staff that the “Snow Fall” feature, by Dec. 26, had over 3.5 million page views. Abramson said (via memo published on Romenesko) that, “At its peak, as many as 22,000 users visited Snow Fall at any given time.”
Normally we say, “If you want to see the … click here”. But for this, we’re saying that you need—as a visual artist that tells stories through our imagery—to see what (in our opinion) the future of online storytelling will look like. Go HERE and watch the feature.