Teaching Examples


Online storytelling: Louisiana’s coast
March 8, 2007, 4:25 pm
Filed under: design, graphics, journalism, multimedia, online

Here’s a story package about a very important topic: Last Chance: Saving Louisiana’s Coast, from The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

There are two multimedia components. First, the slideshow (made with Soundslides) represents a one-man effort by staff photographer Ted Jackson, according to the credits at the end. Many of the pictures are stunningly beautiful, and I really like the graphic way in which Jackson identified the sources for his audio. He’s attempted to do something here that we have not seen much of yet in the slideshow format: Tell a serious, non-personal story with images and audio from multiple expert sources. (He’s integrated natural sound very nicely as well.)

Does the slideshow succeed? Not entirely. It seems too slow to me, even though I don’t really want the images to change any faster. (It’s 4 min. 21 sec., which is awfully long.) I think what I really want is a greater amount of information simultaneously. I think I’d get more out of this slideshow if some text were integrated into the image portion. What I’m imagining is that first I would see the photo alone for about 4 to 5 seconds. Then that slide would be replaced by the same photo with a large-size text nugget overlay, directly related to the immediately current voiceover OR to the image — or BOTH.

One example: When an aide to the governor of Louisiana says, “… 217 square miles. When you talk about wetlands in other parts of the country, they’re dealing in acreage,” I would like to see this text — 217 square miles — right there on the screen. For impact. For emphasis. To help me get my mind around it.

To me, that’s where visual storytelling is headed today: Multiple imputs for multiple senses. That holds my attention so that I don’t have a chance to think I might want to click away. As a result, I understand more.

Second, there’s a multi-part information graphic, which starts out with an excellent introduction telling me exactly what the story is and what I can find in each of the five chapters. I can access the chapters in any order I choose. This graphics package is the work of staff artist Dan Swenson, who was also responsible for The Times-Picayune’s excellent hurricane flooding map in 2005.

The storytelling here is great in how successfully it shows me exactly what is happening to the coastal lands, how severe the losses are, and where they have occurred. Chapter 4 is fantastically effective, brief, direct, and very easy to use. I really appreciated the photos of the marsh rodent that’s destroying the grasses.

One thing that would help me a lot — especially in Chapter 5 — is to use a highlight color to draw my eye to what I am supposed to be looking at. I was so distracted by the (unnecessary) spinning football field, I missed the whole animation the first time through. (I also thought I should be able to drag the timeline slider at the bottom.)

The use of audio throughout this graphics package worked very well, in my opinion. I would suggest only that the text captions (now buried at the bottom, and small) be integrated more gracefully and offered as an on/off option with the audio. That is, I should be able to turn off the captions if I prefer to hear the audio, and I should be able to see the captions nice and big if I choose to turn off the audio.

The biggest flaw in this package would be easy to fix: Chapter navigation should be accessible at all times from all screens. When you go back to the start, you have to sit through the entire introduction AGAIN before you can go to a new chapter. And after you pick a chapter, you either have to go back to the intro or wait all the way to the end to get a Next button. (Aiieee! Set me free!) Also, it would be great if I could see at a glance which chapter I was in at any time.

Overall, both of these non-redundant multimedia components work very well and are very appropriate to the story.

The next stage in our online evolution will be to fully integrate two packages like this into one!

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4 Comments so far
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Another idea would have been to add in a graphic that shows what the 200+ square miles of land loss looks like. Would need a slightly higher aesthetic than the Flash animations, but easily doable.

Comment by Mark Johnson

Yes, they could have done that with one JPG inserted into the Soundslides. Good suggestion!

Comment by Mindy McAdams

Mindy – thanks for pointing this one out! I’m a little partial since I am from the area and will always call it home…but…This photo story is excellent because it is touching, honest and real.

More importantly, though, it makes a statement. It does what journalism is supposed to do – it cries out to (or maybe calls out) politicians to act. It tells the true story and puts things in some perspective.

One things that stands out about this piece is that, rather than dwelling on the past, it focuses on the future. Much of Katrina coverage has been so focused on what happened and not what is going to happen if things aren’t addressed and changed.

I agree that a more integrated approach would have been stronger than breaking apart a graphic and a slideshow — at least one package tying the two together would have helped, though.

The graphic is ok, but it’s painful to get through and there is no accessibility for those without audio (or those who don’t want to listen to audio).

Comment by Kristen Novak

See, that’s a big flaw in the graphic — there actually IS text that replicates the content of the audio. But you will be very lucky if you find it, because it’s hiding at the bottom of the screen. You might have to scroll to see it.

Comment by Mindy McAdams




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