It’s not a buzzword any more, it’s an expectation. Multimedia storytelling is the way we market, create company reports or share our lives on Snapchat – but that doesn’t mean we always rock it. Before you even put your fingers on the camera or keyboard, you need to work through these five steps using the best multimedia tool you have – your brain.
Do these tips work? Well, I learned them while creating a 2014 multimedia story on Tacoma’s gulches, which won me both a UW Communications Outstanding Completed Research award and second place in Comprehensive Coverage from the Northwest Society for Professional Journalists. So, yes.
And with that, here are five tips to rock your next multimedia storytelling project:
1. Figure out your storyline
Story pitch, action idea, summary – call it what you want, but at the heart of every successful story, from ads to news, is a pithy idea that follows the ancient rules of good storytelling. It has a beginning, middle and end; it has a protagonist (even if that is a place or profit margin); it has a challenge the protagonist must face; and it has a resolution. You can fit all this into about 80 words (the length of this paragraph so far), and you must. Why? Firstly, because you’ll need it to pitch your story to your boss, to your sources and to your audience (think social media post, headline, soundbite). And secondly, because if YOU don’t have a clear idea of your plot, neither will anyone else. Here’s an example: the story pitch for my gulches project.
2. Know your platform
And I mean know it really, really well. Decide which platform best suits your abilities, timeframe and story type. Sites like Exposure and Storehouse are semi-permanent and free but have design limitations and often allow only one video; programs like Adobe Muse are more flexible for non-programmers but are harder to learn; coding your own is the ultimate in control. Regardless of what you choose, give yourself much more time than you think you need to learn it inside out.
I built my gulch story in Muse, and one reason it isn’t viewable on mobile is that I simply ran out of time to redesign it – Muse doesn’t do that for you. On the other hand, I got to play with parallax, full-screen video and create my own templates.
3. Decide how much interaction
Digital audiences expect interactivity: we want to navigate stories ourselves, expand or contract, comment, share. But there’s a real value in non-interactive narration, too – think of a really good movie, which weaves a spell that’s only powerful because we allow it to immerse us. The balance between interactivity and narration is a spectrum, and stories work best when they’re in the right place. Yours might need readers assembling all the pieces themselves and adding their own to it via comments, a drawing tool or a social feed. Or it might need a firm narrative voice, only allowing minimal interaction. Make your choice, and choose the platform that allows it.
4. Know your media
Guided by your storyline and your subject knowledge, think about what you’ll say with each medium. Text, photos, video, data visualizations, maps and music all express ideas differently. Some are good for clarity, others for emotion. Some are best for complex ideas, others show motion or time. Make a list of things you want to communicate with YOUR story, and which media would do it best. This saves a lot of time, especially shooting visuals.
5. Report your story.
I’m a journalist, so I tend to think like one – and that’s not a bad thing. Approach your story like a journalist, using your storyline as a guiding light but being open to what’s actually out there in the world. Interview people with set questions, but also ask open-ended ones, or just wait in the silence for the real story to emerge. Think of how to show something in many different ways: ice cream looks very different being eaten by a small child to being eaten by a biker gang at a festival, or being mixed up in the machine from overhead.
Now that you’ve done the hard work of answering these questions, go create!