Presentation at the Reuters Institute for the
Study of Journalism, University of Oxford on
June 17th, 2013 by the journalist fellow Saila
This is Jill Abramson, the Executive Editor of The New York Times. She is probably the most
powerful editor in the world.
She thinks that the future of digital storytelling will look like the New York Times’ feature project
Snow Fall – The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. This compelling story about an avalanche has
received a lot of positive attention after it was published in the end of 2012. It also received a
This is how it looks like. It is a text-based narrative with multimedia
(videos, audio, images, slideshows, animations and graphics) integrated into the text right where
The video is exactly where it belongs in the story.
Multimedia elements can be opened in full screen and they all add dimension, either facts of
feeeling to the story.
Here is an example of a slide show. It presents the lives of the characters before the avalanche. It
is also integrated to the text.
Interactive graphics evolve alongside the text, at the same speed than the reader scrolls down
Animations show how an avalanche is created. You can either play it like a video or watch in
This animation takes the reader to the place of action.
You know how Americans are eager to make verbs from nouns? They have started to use snowfall
as a verb in The New York Times’ newsroom. Can we snowfall this story? Meaning in Jill
Abramson’s words ”to tell a story with fantastic graphics and video and every kind of multimedia”.
But is Abramson right? Is this the future of digital storytelling?
In my research I looked for an answer to the question what storytelling on tablets should look like
and I reached a similar kind of conclusion: Snow Fall is a good example of digital storytelling.
However it is not designed purely for tablets so it doesn’t use all the technical dimensions of a
In my paper I established what are the key characteristics of a tablet-specific application. I found
eight characteristics Snow Fall fullfils all of these four.
These are the next four characteristics. With making fingers happy I mean using the touch
element: People want to play with the touch screen (wipe, scroll, tap). You must offer them the
opportunity to explore with fingers.
Snow Fall is simple and clear how to use. It only lacks a bit in aesthetics. It is almost dull in looks
without any visible reason. And it doesn’t really make fingers happy (because it was not designed
only for tablets).
For example Wired Magazine, which according to my research is also a very good example of a
well-done tablet application, is clearly better in taking fingers into account (and applying design
aesthetics). In this screen capture: by tapping the number in the graphic the information box
Touching different decades brings more specific information and the arrows take you to the next
These characteristics typically remain unchanged from article to article or publication to
publication, so they don’t require everyday altering work.
But the real challenge lies within these characteristics. For these one-time developing or coding is
not sufficient. They require everyday work, which requires money, time and new, tech savvy staff.
But I think that to compete with other content providers and googles and yahoos the media
industry will need to step up.
Otherwise… Others will do it anyways. Here is an example of Guardian Australia’s new
application, Firestorm, that follows Snow Fall’s example in the way it has been produced. But
in many ways it has been developed to look and feel even better. Design aesthetics is better
and it is nicer for the fingers.
These kind of evolutionary versions of the
model piece of digital storytelling already exist.
Based on my research the future will owned by
the ones that take into consideration the
My research paper “INTEGRATE MULTIMEDIA, MAKE FINGERS HAPPY – JOURNALISTIC
STORYTELLING ON TABLETS” is to be published soon on the Reuters Institute’s webpages.