Mike Davis’ Does Story Telling Lose in Multimedia is a poorly-argued position on multimedia. Usually very helpful with his industry insider’s voice, Davis has not met his usual standards. Shame.
Davis’ logic is flawed. Let me quote (in bold) and question his three-point disappointment.
1. Thou shalt approach subject matter that mostly happened in the past.
Please show me something in journalism of any medium that has happened in the future. Or, if we are to yearn for the present, does Davis want only live-feeds of events on our TVs and computers?
2. Thou shalt point a video/audio producing machine at a person looking at said machine and ask them questions, as the primary story telling medium. (You may separate said audio from said video with papal dispensation.)
So we shouldn’t interview subjects? Maybe guess what they’re thinking? Do away with quotes? Or should subjects have wireless lapel mics attached when they’re not paying attention?
In good multimedia, the questions are not the content; the answers are. To incorporate them involves, yes, separating and editing audio.
3. Thou shalt make video of something in the present tense that may or may not have anything to do with that past event and then overlay that video cleverly with the interview audio to suggest a connection between the two, without being too misleading.
If there is a gross deception that occurs whereby the mix of audio and video manipulates a story, then this is not the fault of the format, but the poor skills of the creator. If Davis spots it then viewers will too.
On the idea of misleading the audience, maybe Davis is holding too much on to old rigid rules of journalism? The multimedia producers I have spoken to are very clear that while they are reporting a situation, they are doing so with a personal verve. Multimedia has more facets and more production than say a text article or photo-essay. It is layered and if used properly can tell stories VERY effectively.
Multimedia incorporates hard facts but also the producers’ own interpretations of the contexts for those facts. I would call this space between non-fiction and interpretation, storytelling. Good storytelling involves the teller; we rely on his/her skills to walk us through the story.
I can appreciate that Davis may have had a couple of painful experiences judging multimedia competitions but for him to lament the medium is too much of a generalisation and ironically, misleading itself.
As David Campbell noted, Davis offers no examples of poor multimedia. So let me offer some examples of good multimedia:
Pete Brook is a freelance writer. He writes and edits Prison Photography, his own blog about the visual politics of prisons. Pete writes about photography for Wired.com and contributes at BagNewsNotes. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow @brookpete on Twitter.