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When Multimedia Buries the Story

multimedia and journalismBy Helen Kaiao Chang

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.

Have you got an example of how tempting it is to emphasize multimedia instead of the story?

Helen Kaiao Chang is a ghostwriter, editor and journalist, specializing in business and motivational topics. She may be reached at www.ghostwriter-needed.com.

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Image from http://www.sxc.hu

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Yes, Abe, thanks for that! CBS’ Sunday morning news program tells wonderful stories through the visual medium. I myself have been a TV producer and created many TV stories, and I agree that many stories are better told by TV or radio or text. With print, words themselves can be so erudite and convoluted that the story gets lost. In all mediums, we have to remember to let the story come first.
    Helen Chang recently posted..Jan 14, Freelance Ghostwriters at Your ServiceMy Profile

    • Anne

      In defense of print, done well, it gives time to ponder, to think, to let our imagination fill in the gaps and to re-read again and again over time.

  • You are absolutely right, Abe. Good communication is just that-written, audio, visual-whatever the tool, it’s what it conveys.

    Have you seen this YouTube video? To me, it’s one of the very best I’ve seen that conveys exactly what you are talking about.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-8PBx7isoM
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Client Documentation Trumps Lazy Little DevilMy Profile

    • Anne

      Clear communication indeed!

  • Abe

    It’s always important to have a clear sense of the story. But don’t forget that “the story” isn’t always written. As you say, some stories are best told through video, audio or photographs. Those aren’t just bells and whistles or something to “enhance” the real story. They’re legitimate means of communicating a story to an audience. It takes just as much care to craft a good visual or audio story as it does a written one – and all are important storytelling forms.

    • Anne

      Well said, Abe.

  • Truth is without compelling writing, all the bells and whistles in the world aren’t going to get the message across. What a great post, Helen.
    Lori recently posted..Links and Fun StuffMy Profile

  • jorgekafkazar

    In a related area, Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster banned PowerPoint presentations in his unit in 2005. He called PowerPoint an internal threat: “It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

  • Thank you Cathy!
    Helen Chang recently posted..Jan 14, Freelance Ghostwriters at Your ServiceMy Profile

  • This is a great post, Helen. On my marketing plan this year is to get more into the multimedia, and yes, I admit I am intimidated.

    But, I really love your advice about not forgetting the story. I call it losing the message in the delivery. Commercials are famous for it. How many times do you watch a commercial and wonder what the heck they are selling?

    Great advice, Helen!
    Cathy Miller recently posted..When Stupid Customers AttackMy Profile

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