Week 2: Analyzing digital storytelling features and forms, plus June 24 Google Hangout reminder

If you haven’t read the course essentials post, which contains a link to the course outline as well as important course and time management information, please do so before reading this post.

This week’s materials:
Reading Screens: What Eye Tracking Tells Us about the Writing in Digital Longform Journalism (Marino, 2016)
Multimedia Storytelling in Journalism: Exploring Narrative Techniques in Snow Fall (van Krieken, 2018)
Picking the Right Media for the Story (Grabowicz, 2015)

Whether audiences are experiencing them on their desktops, tablets or smartphones, digital longform features integrated with multimedia elements have become the de facto journalistic standard for text-based narrative stories. This week’s readings (Marino and van Krieken) step back from reporting and production to take scholarly approaches to analyze how this work is being created and consumed. The New York Times’ 2012 project Snow Fall, which you were assigned to read and view last week, was seen by many as the beginning of a new era in digital longform. Both Marino and van Krieken find that while the feature offered an avalanche (sorry not sorry) of interactive features, its text-driven narrative was the engine driving the story.

These insights will be instructive as you continue to develop your MRP story and even if you end up choosing one platform for the project, you will have a better understanding of how narrative journalism is experienced online. A reminder that for your first assignment (due on June 24, see last week’s blog post and the course outline for details), you are expected to address at least three concepts related to digital features raised in both of these readings.

The third reading is a guide to help you make preliminary decisions about the multimedia elements you might produce for your MRP. Several students are interested in producing radio or video documentaries or podcasts and while you may not have multimedia elements in your final story, at this early stage, it’s important to explore other narrative forms and to be able to justify your decision to choose a particular one.

Reading Screens: What Eye Tracking Tells Us about the Writing in Digital Longform Journalism
In her eye-tracking study of fifteen millennial readers, Marino explores how audiences interact with digital elements, including text and images, on the screen. Eye-tracking research is an important area of journalism studies and has evolved from studying how people read a printed page to understanding how they interact with words, images, video and other interactive elements on websites and mobile devices. Her paper focuses on what we learned about what kind of writing millennials read when they look at digital longform journalism, as well as how they regarded the writing in the projects chosen for the study.

Multimedia Storytelling in Journalism: Exploring Narrative Techniques in Snow Fall
Van Krieken takes a closer look at how journalists take traditionally text-based techniques including scene reconstructions and point-of-view writing and translate them into digital multimedia elements. Using the New York Times’ Snow Fall, this study examines how the distinctive features of text, image, video, audio and graphic animations help immerse the audience in an otherwise distant news event, not connected to their lives. This paper looks at how the other elements in this feature complement and enhance the storytelling.

Picking the Right Media for the Story
This tutorial clearly helps compare the strengths and weaknesses of different types of media and how to match them up with different kinds of stories. The piece takes you through the different types of media – video, photos, audio, graphics/maps and text – and the kinds of stories or characteristics of stories that lend themselves to the different kinds of media.


Our first Google Hangout is scheduled for Monday, June 24 from 8-9 pm EST. You will receive a Google invite for the video chat shortly and can click on the link during that time to ask questions or discuss any issues related to your MRP. If for some reason you don’t receive the invite, the link is meet.google.com/prw-ugar-fob. Joining the Google Hangout is not mandatory and of course, if you have any questions, please drop me an email at asmaa.malik@ryerson.ca.

Have a great week and enjoy the Raptors parade!


Week 1: Introduction to longform digital storytelling, plus details on your first assignment and Google Hangout office hours

If you haven’t read the course essentials post, which contains a link to the course outline as well as important course and time management information, please do so before reading this post.

This week’s materials:
Snow Fall (Longform, The New York Times)
The Shirt On Your Back (Interactive feature, The Guardian)
The Perfect Storm
(Longform, The Eagle)
CamperForce (Video documentary, Field of Vision)
Beulah’s Beach (Radio documentary, CBC)

This week’s reading, listening and viewing materials offer an introduction to the kind of work you will be producing for your Major Research Project. I’ve chosen pieces that range from the overly ambitious (Snow Fall) to the deeply intimate (Beulah’s Beach). I’ve selected an Online News Award-nominated student project from American University in Washington, D.C. (The Perfect Storm), as well a short documentary made with a very small budget about the next generation of daily wage workers (CamperForce).

For your first assignment, due June 24, you will be writing a blog post in the form of a digital longform critique, breaking down a feature of your choosing into its component parts, assessing what works, what doesn’t and why. When you are reading, viewing and listening to these assigned features, keep the same questions in mind.

Longform multimedia feature: Snow Fall (The New York Times, 2012)
This 2012 New York Times feature was seen by many at the time to be the beginning of a new age of immersive digital storytelling. While it may seem overlong and overly intricate in hindsight, it was one of the first longform features to integrate infographics, video and text in a parallax scroll.

Interactive documentary: The Shirt On Your Back (The Guardian, 2014)
The Shirt on Your Back is an interactive documentary about the Rana Plaza disaster, the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, and the global garment industry. In this interactive documentary, Guardian journalists trace the lifecycle of a shirt as well as the human cost of the Bangladeshi garment industry.

Longform multimedia feature: The Perfect Storm (The Eagle, 2018)
At American University in 2017, students found scribbled racist slurs on bananas hanged from string tied like nooses on campus. The slurs targeted the school’s first African-American female student body president and her historically African-American sorority. The FBI later labeled the banana incident a hate crime. This longform feature, the senior project of an American University journalism student, was a finalist for a 2018 Online News Association award.

Short video documentary: CamperForce (Field of Vision, 2017)
This 2017 documentary, co-directed by Canadian filmmaker Brett Story, tells the story about workampers – older people who were bankrupted by the Great Recession of 2008 and decided to downsize their lives in every way they could. Living in RV’s, campers and vans, many these workampers retired from well-paying jobs, only to find themselves thrust back in the workforce, doing physically demanding jobs for a lot less money.

Radio documentary: Beulah’s Beach (CBC, 2018)
Beulah Chandler was on her favourite Cape Breton beach one August day in 2017 when she witnessed the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. It was Duncan Gillis, a stranger, helping his ailing wife walk on the beach. Beulah posted a video of the couple online. Over 37,000 views later, their story is only beginning. This radio doc is part of CBC’s Doc Project and was produced by Emma Smith.


Assignment 1: Digital Feature Critique (due June 24)

For your first assignment, you will be writing a 750-850-word analysis of a major digital longform feature of your choosing. The feature must be published in English by a reputable news organization in Canada or around the world. This assignment is worth 20 per cent of your course grade and is due on June 24, by 5 p.m. on your individual blog.

In responding to the following questions, you must also address at least three concepts related to digital features raised in the Marino (corrected link) and van Krieken readings (which will be introduced next week):

  • Does this feature work both in terms of content and design? Why or why not?
  • What are its component parts?
  • What are the strongest components? The weakest?
  • What would you change to make it more effective?

As always, if you have any questions about this assignment or anything else, please consult the course outline first. Please post any questions on the blog and I’ll reply. In most cases, other students probably have the same questions.


Google Hangout office hours

In lieu of IRL office hours for this course, I will be holding four Google Hangout sessions throughout the semester.

One week in advance, I will send send each of you invitations for Google Hangouts for the following dates: Monday, June 24; Monday, July 8; Monday, July 22; Monday, August 19. You can click on the video links to join the discussion and talk to your classmates and ask questions between 8-9 pm EST.

You are not required to participate in these Google Hangouts and of course, you can also email me if you’d like to set up a phone call at another time.

Have a great week,