Guest post from Mr Pete ‘Prison Photography’ Brook

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:

Intended Consequences by Jonathan Torgovnik/MediaStorm.
Trapped, by Jenn Ackermann.
Afrikaner Blood, by Elles van Gelder & photojournalist Ilvy Njiokiktjien

Alternatively you can trawl the archives of Interactive Narratives or MediaStorm. In the face of such an amount of excellent storytelling, Davis’ position is simply off-the-mark.


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 and contributes at BagNewsNotes. He lives in Portland, Oregon. Follow @brookpete on Twitter.

Discussion (8 Comments)

  1. Josh Lustig says:

    Nice one Pete. After reading Mike’s post I also felt the need to get in touch with him direct, to point him in the direction of a couple of pieces…

    His response was, “Those are certainly more interesting than the usual fare.”

    So I guess he’s open to having his mind changed 🙂

    Josh, Panos Pictures

  2. Shawn says:

    Davis’s piece has to have been a drunk post.

    No other way I can figure an experienced journalist would hastily deride other journalists’ work while committing the same egregious acts he criticizes.

  3. Tim Matsui says:

    Thanks Pete. Davis is very well qualified, but the media world is changing very rapidly. The tenets of journalism remain, but the methodology and distribution is evolving very quickly. I’m glad he’s going to take a workshop and is approaching it with the idea that he’ll find new ways for this new medium. I think he’s going to be surprised at the power of storytelling multimedia holds, as well as the difficulty inherent in it. His years as an editor will help him manage content capture, if the tools don’t get in the way.

  4. Daniel Turner says:

    I think there has been a significant misunderstanding of the points Mr. Davis raises.

    1. Present-tense doesn’t mean live-feed, it means capturing moments & scenes that are allowed to play out, rather than relying on b-roll over narration/description of past events. This is no different from what a good photo story captures, yet such footage is generally way underused compared to the b-roll/interview combination.

    2. Along the same lines, what does an interview-heavy script accomplish that a written story couldn’t? Audio that comes from “present” scenes and unfolding action, on the other hand, is far more unique/suited to video.

    3. Mr. Brook argues against this point pretty well, but misses that Mike is critiquing poor storytellers, not great ones.

    I had the opportunity to sit in on the NCPPA contest that Mr. Davis helped judge, and in one of the videos submitted the producer cut footage of an athlete laying back in the grass to interview audio of the athlete describing a fall that nearly left him paralyzed. The judges’ critique seemed to be that such use of b-roll to create symbolism is easy to do, but heavy-handed and demeaning to the intellect of the viewer.

    Interestingly enough, that video also happened to be the winner of the first round of the Hearst Multimedia competition. This brings me to the heart of what I think Mike is arguing: the majority of multimedia currently being produced has appeal within the industry, yet fails to engage a broader audience. We’ve developed a style that is polished, repeatable, and easy to fit into the pace of the modern newsroom, but in doing so have failed to fully utilize the potential of video/multimedia to create engaging stories.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.