Discovering the Basics of Multimedia Journalism


Audio, video, photo, slide show, text, linking, tagging: with so much media at their disposal, news outlets are continually redefining what it means to produce a “multimedia” story.

This can be a liberating process, with a variety of media to show one’s creativity. On the other hand, continuity is hard to maintain with so many elements. Web reporters must achieve a balance between creativity and continuity.

The definitive multimedia story is impossible to define, but a few basics are essential to make a good one. Andrew DeVigal, New York Times multimedia editor, said the foundation is simple: having a good topic.

“Let’s make sure that A: the story has a narrative, has a full narrative, and a narrative by meaning are there characters that people can relate to,” said DeVigal. “Is there a reason why you would want to get into this story? You can achieve that strictly out of a good story.”

Once the information is clear and interesting, the creator shapes it to be most appealing to a user. But with so many audience demographics to cover, how does one interest them all? According to Mark Briggs, author of the guide Journalism 2.0, every user shares an appreciation for interactivity.

“It is important to recognize the change in your audience,” said Briggs in his guide. “They want to participate, so help them. Many traditional news organizations include e-mail links on news stories to make it easy for readers to contact the reporter and ask questions or comment on stories. Some have taken the next step and allow readers to comment directly on the story online for all to see.”

University of Florida journalism professor Mindy McAdams agrees with Briggs, as long as the accessibility is not too technical.

“I think good multimedia is engaging, and that is it makes the audience feel interested and it’s also accessible,” said McAdams. “It doesn’t intimidate you with too many instructions or being too complicated. That doesn’t mean it’s simplistic, but it’s easy to enter it.”

Simplicity on the users’ side may be essential, but a creator must first have a deep knowledge of complex web techniques to format this easy navigation, according to Kenneth Irby, the Visual Journalism Group Leader and Director of Diversity at the Poynter Institute

“There are some basic foundational web navigation strategies that need to be in place in terms of using a scrubber bar and understanding flash or either the coding that’s being used to build the interface,” said Irby. “It’s not just a matter of understanding fonts, and contrast and dimension on a page. That’s what most websites have been lacking.”

Irby said the technology must disappear into the background, and creators must use all technological tricks they can find to make this happen. Then, after the web design come the media. Blending one medium with another is another skill entirely. Keith Jenkins, supervising senior producer for NPR’s multimedia, thinks each medium cannot just mimick the others.

“Do we really gain anything in a particular story by having somebody sit in front of a camera and basically say the exact same thing that he’s going to say in an audio piece? Probably not,” said Jenkins.  “What we would look for is something that helps illustrate those themes a little bit better or extends that theme a little bit better and shows you something visually that takes you to a different level of understanding.”

However, each element cannot be completely exclusive. According to American Journalism Review contributor Ronald A. Yaros, there must be some overlap to obtain continuity.

“Put that video or timeline or reader comment or related link at the place in the text where it’s most relevant — but also plan to provide some overlap between the video and text,” said Yaros in his article, “Mastering Multimedia.” “That’s because many readers will just read or watch one or the other.”

For most editors/writers/creators, audience captivation is the main goal. There are a plethora of ways to mix and match media, and the beauty (or curse for those left-brained types) is that there is no one right way. As long as the user returns as a result of that piece, it is successful.

This podcast episode is part of a series on multimedia journalism created by students at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. Audio clips from the Multimedia Standards grid were used with permission.