Teaching Examples

Jordan’s War package (critique 3)
May 11, 2006, 11:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The problems in this package keep circling round like hungry wolves — they won’t go away. It’s the pieces. Too much stuff in too many pieces.

Jordan's War front

I want to like it, and I do like it. It’s like a nice supper beside the campfire. There’s a lot to like. But there are those wolves …

The package started out as a newspaper series, and frankly, I think all the problems stem from that. Because when you click into those five sections so clearly laid out at the top, you get five print stories. The first one, for example: 898 words on the first screen. This is one of those multi-screen treatments, so when you get to the bottom of the page, you see there are two more chunks to this story. Togther they come to 1,122 words — so Part One is 2,020 words.

And there are five parts.

So the wolves — they are the knowledge that I am never going to sit down and read 10,000 words on my computer. Never. And the wolves are also a sense of overload, of intensity, that makes me want to pack up my stuff and leave the site. But there is this 23-year old who lost his finger, who carries a camera in Iraq for the U.S. Marines, and I am made curious about him when I click those little yellow dots on the figure at the bottom of the page.

I learn that his helmet is made of Kevlar, his boots are suede, and his camera is a Canon 20D. I know he was wounded and received two Purple Hearts. I’ve been to the photo gallery and the historical timeline of war photography. But when I go into the text, it’s just too much. There’s a sidebar about the Purple Heart. There’s a slideshow with sound about the young Marine (very redundant after I had already seen the photo gallery). There’s another slideshow with his mom reading from her diary. There are multiple sidebars, with interesting data such as:

Since Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has approved about $320 billion for combat and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan, including $251 billion in Iraq. President Bush is seeking another $120 billion for the wars, bringing their total cost so far to about $440 billion.

I’m struggling with the idea of story.

These wolves have been circling and growling for a couple of weeks now, and what they’re hungry for is the juicy center of the story. Not the 10,000 words. The wolves will rip those into confetti and spit them out.

There’s nothing wrong with writing, text, print. I read books and magazines and newspapers. The printed ones. On paper. But it’s just not possible for me to get the story of the young Marine from this package. I started reading the part about his leaving home, but I couldn’t stick with it. In the printed newspaper, on a Sunday afternoon, lying on my couch with a glass of iced tea, I would probably read it. But not here.

This package is so carefully designed. A bunch of people put in a great deal of time and effort to lay out these stories, to make the multimedia bits, to format the photos for online. Yet it remains five print stories, with some extra added value.

Regina McCombs of the Star Tribune, in Minneapolis, calls this a Christmas tree. The print stories make up the tree. We put the tree on the Web and then we hang all these extra ornaments on it, dress it up with all the added slideshows and audio and Photoshop headers.

We shouldn’t do it that way.

We have to quit taking the print stories and dressing them up in festive Web clothing. It’s not a problem to make the print stories available online — the problem is the decoration. We should not spend the time decorating the print version. Put it online, leave it alone, and someone can print it out if they really want to read it.

How can you get me to care about the young Marine?

What do you need to do to make me follow his story with eagerness, with desire?

The wolves howl for it, whatever it is. It is not text, that’s for certain.

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