Digital Feature Critique: Firestorm

The Guardians feature story Firestorm: The story of the bushfire in Dunalley is impactful right from the start. The image of the Homes family draws hiding from the bushfire with an expression of terror on their faces is a powerful image that draws you into the story and introduces you to the implicit viewpoint markers of the Guardians narrative.
The once the reader takes in this first image for a while the text that accompanies it leads into the harder news/fact-based components of the story.
Chapter one Distant Smoke also does an excellent job of combining picture and text components to set up the narrative. Here we see a pristine landscape with smoke over the horizon. This tells the reader that the story will be chronological and that we are starting at the beginning within tranquil rural Tasmania, but it foreshadows the danger and destruction to come. This image and the text that accompanies it as you scroll places you in the shoes of the Holmes family and those who also lived in the area and sets the scene that morning. Then it segues nicely into some hard fact about the area – already a format is being established: an impactful picture with text, set the scene with text and video, hard facts, multimedia elements to add greater context, and repeat.
Establishing this format early on allows the reader greater ease and enjoyment in interacting with the story. Digital stories that employ multiple different forms for media can seem overwhelming at times – as was documented by Jacqueline Marino in her eye tracking study. However, by having a clear format for how the media elements are employed allows the reader greater ease in digesting the different modalities of information at once.
One excellent use of multimedia for this story is the moving pictures. Given how significant the amount of wind was to spread and accelerate the fires out of control, the moving images allow the wind to be shown in a way static pictures could not capture.
The story also has some strong text elements in this chapter. The history of the Australian people dealing with regular bushfires as well as an account of the ecology in the area that has adapted to the fires gives a broad context and deeper understanding.
Chapter 2 follows the same format as chapter one. The strongest section of this chapter combines three different modalities: text, video, and audio – and gives the perspective of fireman Adam Meredith as he chases the fire in his car.
Chapter 3 Inferno changes the format slightly by incorporating more video and audio to set the scene, which works well to capture all the action of the fire. It stays with the same format by ending with text to give all the hard facts.
Chapter 4 The Jetty makes an impact on the reader by returning to the opening image and following it up with a series of pictures while combining it with audio from the Holmes parents describing the scene. These two elements, the powerful images and the emotional retelling of the story, compliment each other brilliantly.
Chapter 5 and 6 also used the same format, but the tone is very different. These chapters are hopeful and tell the story about the rebirth and rebuilding following the destruction. The reader can’t help but think back to the history end ecology section at the end of chapter one. It seems that the people have also become adaptable to living with brushfires. Not only are they good at rebuilding after the construction, but they have the mental fortitude to not be dismayed by this process and actually feel grateful for what was spared by the fire.
The story ends with a video of children playing on the beach and the parents saying how great a place it is to be a child. This statement would have been hard to come to terms with as the reader if not left to the end of the story. Only through the immersive telling of this story through uses of different multimedia could the reader understand how they could believe such a seemingly dangerous place could be a good place to raise kids. However, having a deeper understanding of what it is like to be in their shoes and live in an area where bushfires and rebuilding is a way of life explains how they could still love their homes.