The star treatment: How the music industry overlooked R Kelly’s alleged abuse of young women reflects upon Kelly’s abuse allegations spanning nearly two decades. The Washington Post feature was released in May 2018 after the Post gathered information from six women who withstood abusive relationships with Kelly. Combining text, audio, photos, text messages, and one video, the piece illustrates Kelly’s guilt with digital evidence. Though Kelly has never disappeared from mainstream media, this feature combines the past with the present to remind readers of his abusive patterns and inexcusable actions. 

Content and Design

Author Geoff Edgers writes succinctly, does not shy away from shocking detail, and includes a wide variety of quotes and sources from both sides. While Kelly’s story is not a new one, the feature includes statements from two women who had never spoken to the media about their relationships with Kelly. As an investigative piece, it certainly held true to its genre and the text alone speaks for itself. However, the addition of photos, audio, video, and continuous scrolling text messages enhance the powerful story.

Jacqueline Marino’s Reading Screens: What Eye Tracking Tells Us about the Writing in Digital Longform Journalismindicates that participants in an eye tracking study favoured the text over all other elements. Like the participants of the study, it is likely that readers of this feature spent more time fixating on the words than the multimedia within the feature. Marino says that the best web writing was thought to be short and direct, and this feature proves that. Despite being around 5000 words, the piece breaks at all the right times to capture the reader’s attention, mainly with photos. 

In Multimedia Storytelling in Journalism: Exploring Narrative Techniques in Snow Fall,author Kobie van Krieken points out that the different media formats should complement rather than repeat one another. While there is some repetition of media, such as images of the same people twice, the multimedia serve to complement the text first and foremost. For example, the feature describes the horrific living conditions that Kelly’s posse endured, then showed two photos of his studio as verification. Multimedia stories, van Krieken says, have the potential to immerse the audience by offering an encompassing, distraction-free environment. This feature demonstrates that trait by keeping readers immersed in the powerful story while providing some visual breaks from the text.

Component Parts: Strongest and Weakest

The feature is made up of text, photos, one video, one audio clip, and two scrolling text messages. The text is by far the strongest element of the digital feature. One could read it in a magazine without any multimedia and still be engaged. The participants in Marino’s study appreciated writing that was clearly written, informative, and well integrated with other elements, and this feature strongly excelled in that area. 

The photos, however, add the most intrigue to the story. Because Kelly was involved with an abundance of people, it is only natural for readers to want to put a face to a name—and the piece fulfills that desire. The feature includes 15 photos that range from people to places to protests. One participant in Marino’s study points out that photographs add context to a story and make it as though it isn’t just words on a screen. This feature exemplifies that by strategically placing photos with accompanying text.

The feature also includes a six-minute video (produced by The Post) that sums up Kelly’s past and present abuse. A short documentary of sorts, the supplementary video is just that—supplementary. It does not contain much additional information, nor does it add much to the piece. Furthermore, the video is placed within the first 500 words of the feature, which could deter people from continuing to read. 

Disappointingly, the audio clip did not play unless downloaded. It is a 30-minute clip from the ‘Edge of Fame’ podcast about R. Kelly and the Savage Family. While the clip certainly adds more details and delves deeper into a specific element of the piece, it could have been condensed. The feature already takes around 20 minutes to read so it is unlikely that readers would listen to the entire clip.

The timestamped scrolling text messages mimic those of an iPhone. The first message is between a live-in girlfriend and a staffer and the second is between two staffers. Both demonstrate Kelly’s nonsensical ‘rules.’ This piece of media is much more effective than had the texts been written normally and once again, gives readers a break from the text.

This feature could definitely benefit from more multimedia elements since there is a surplus of R. Kelly footage to choose from. The ones that exist in the feature could also be integrated more seamlessly. The reader still has to click on the video and audio so there is a higher chance that they could be overlooked. Despite this, the piece is well written, thoroughly investigated, and provides readers with previously unknown knowledge.

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