By Christopher B. Daly
Just catching up with a landmark in multimedia journalism: the New York Times project titled “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” which was originally posted just before Christmas. IMHO, it is very nearly the state of the art in using multimedia to tell a story, especially a narrative.
The piece (if that’s the right word… project?) was a success in many ways — it was beautiful (in a terrifying sort of way), it was deeply informative, and it brought the Times a whole lot of welcome traffic from new visitors. It remains to be seen if any of those drop-in readers become regulars or subscribers. I would say “Snow Fall” is on a par with the best work done by MediaStorm or NatGeo, or even one of my all-time favorites, Bear71.
That said, could the Times have done a better job on Snow Fall? I hasten to say I could not have done better but I can think of two suggestions: First, the Times took some well-deserved flak for annoying subscribers by sending out a “breaking news” alert about Snow Fall, when it was clearly not breaking news. I trust they will not do that again.
More important, I would venture to say that the essential story could have been stronger. There were a lot of protagonists, and we barely met a few of them before they were all engaged in dramatic actions, and it was hard to keep them straight. It is very hard to drive a narrative without a clear hero or villain, and I found the focus wavering. Still, a salute to the lead reporter/writer, John Branch. And, thanks to the Times for tackling the whole project.
Courtesy of Jim Romenesko, here is a comment to the Times staff from the paper’s executive editor, Jill Abramson.