Multimedia, a buzzword about a decade ago, is now the norm. Once a pleasant surprise to see video on the same page as text or a comment forum after a piece of content, the idea of multimedia has evolved from something exciting to something expected. We consider a website substandard if we can’t interact with it and other users on that site.
This multimedia emphasis has greatly influenced the way we tell stories, by making our experience with content more immersive. The Internet has grown into a behemoth of beautiful content, with radio transitioning to podcasts and magazines migrating to tablets, but those transitions are more about keeping up than testing new waters. New technologies have enabled all content creators to branch out from their traditional mediums, and some are doing it in an astounding way.
DSLR video has greatly contributed to this. The tech advancement triggered not just a shift in medium but an entirely new way to tell stories. Interestingly, R&D for video in DSLR came from news outlets’ requests for their photographers to be able to provide video when covering stories. AP and other news syndicates understood the need to have their correspondents multitasking as traditional coverage of news started to shrink.
With this massive improvement in the capture of moving pictures, outlets that would not even dream of touching the prospect of the idea of the notion of video started adding video snippets overnight—and those snippets looked great. More importantly, those video snippets were produced with the same equipment outlets were buying for photography, a major cost savings.
The advances have not stopped there. Now you can buy a professional-grade field sound recorder for a couple hundred bucks instead of thousands. And photo geeks are leading the way in time-lapse software that exceeds the abilities of large-scale professional software like Adobe Lightroom. Essentially, if you can dream it, you can produce it—without having to appeal to media moguls like Rupert Murdoch for capital to start a media company.
And so, writers are becoming photographers. Video producers are starting their own blogs or podcasts. In our new Crossovers series, we showcase content creators who are plunging into other platforms to tell their stories. From the radio station rocking a kick-ass blog to the newspaper delivering timely video for their website, we’re honoring people who are trying something outside their norm—and doing it well.
Multimedia might not be a buzzword anymore, but it is experiencing a rebirth that makes early attempts of integration look something like this:
How NPR Is Taking Video by Storm
The first Crossover honoree, NPR, is one of my favorites—both for their traditional work and the new things they are doing. It has long been one of the best storytelling outlets on the planet. While NPR used to remind me of something my dad would make me listen to on road trips or my grandma would play while spending afternoons with her as a kid, it is far from a stuffy radio outlet. With programs like This American Life, Radiolab, and long list of others, they have been leading the way in radio storytelling for decades and are experiencing a new renaissance.
Whether it’s their YouTube channel overflowing with sweet videos or their awesome blog that lets you choose if you want to read the story or listen to it, NPR has been keeping up with the 21st century.
About a year and a half ago, they went deep with video storytelling. (They’ve been on YouTube since 2006, but their earlier videos were basically just photos with audio.) For an epic feature on the international garment industry, Planet Money stopped talking about economics; they hit the road. Funded by a kickstarter, a “team of multimedia reporters covering the global economy” took a journey around the globe, passing through 10 countries, 3 continents, and 1 archipelago. The intro is below, but it is best watched from the minisite.
Not only did they produce some amazing videos about cotton making its way into the t-shirts we wear, they produced a great minisite to view their trip.
So, why did Planet Money/NPR attempt a crossover? Why go to the effort to branch out? Because the crossover makes you a better storyteller. As a photographer, you think of things visually. As a radio producer, you think of things conceptually. NPR has always been great at telling stories with words, but they must rely on imagination to paint the picture. By bringing in photographers and videographers to tell stories, they are not only enhancing their content, they are becoming better at producing it. Using all mediums, they are forced to think of things more deeply than with just audio.
NPRs leap into the world of multimedia has taken on many forms. From mini-sites like Planet Money making a t-shirt to a science-themed Tumblr named Skunk Bear, NPR did not just take a leap; they splashed in with a full-force cannonball. If you think of an NPR radio producer as a person running a race with an arm and leg tied behind their back while still keeping up in mass media, it is easy to see they were ready to go wild, digging into humor, science, silliness, and creative storytelling.
It is no surprise that they are killing it. This is the beauty of access to low-cost high-tech; we can expect great storytellers to tell even better stories. We can expect two-dimensional stories to take on more dimensions. We can expect to have our senses come alive while exploring the world online.
Be careful, though, a trip to the NPR YouTube page could suck you in, making you lose hours watching all of their witty, interesting, and funny videos. You have been warned.