Digital storytelling: story types & best practices

Posted on July 11, 2014

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What is the future of storytelling and which possibilities are out there to cover stories with the help of data and multimedia? Gregor Aisch, a New York Times graphics editor, talked about different types of stories at the Netzwerk Recherche conference in Hamburg and shared his insights and best practices form across NYT and other publications. Here’s an overview (you will find links to all examples here).

Articles with specially designed graphics

In this format, graphics  break the normal article structure and call attention to its contents like in this example (The Upshot: “To Protect its Empire, ESPN Stays on Offense”). When scrolling down, users first see the the ESPN bar. Further details are revealed only when scrolling further down.

 

Specially designed articles 

In this case, no traditional article template is used. Instead, a new article format os developed. According to Gregor Aisch, NYT publishes two to three articles of this kind in a month.

Here, a lot of pictures were used for the article including two pictures placed side to side which is not usually the case with normal NYT articles (NYT: “Grand Visions Fizzle in Brazil”)

For this article with four student stories (NYT: “Students and Money, in their Own Words”), the same repeating elements like student name, hometome and current school were used to add a structure to the story.

 

Specially designed graphics with interactive elements

In this article (NYT: “A Star Player Accused, and a Flawed Rape Investigation”), a number of interactive elements have been used to tell this complex investigative story including a timeline, quotes from the original documents, audio with interactive transcripts (jQuery plugins), diagrams etc. The investigation for this story last for about four weeks.

 

Comics / Graphic Novels

If done right, comics and graphic novels can be an extremely expressive form of telling stories through visuals. Check out the comics journalism book by Joe Sacco and SymboliaMag.

"Journalism" by Joe Sacco

“Journalism” by Joe Sacco

 

Slideshows

Slideshows enriched with multimedia elements (not to be confused with audio slideshows) are a perfect way to tell a story in a simple and visual manner which users will remember. Here’re two great examples, go check them out!

 

Photo collage

This is a perfect and innovative way to explain sports events and show exact moving patterns. Check out this one by NYT: “Neymar is Making the Most of His Chances”.

 

Maps

Maps can be much more than just maps if done in a smart way. In this example by NYT (“A Rogue State Along Two Rivers”), map of the region across Tigris and Euphrates Rivers offers a basis for the story line. The story took about three weeks of full-time to develop. Check out these two great stories as well: “The Irak-ISIS Conflict in Maps, Photos and Video” and “The Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370“.

 

Animation

Animation is a very helpful way to visually explain complicated facts. In this piece “One Race, Every Medallist ever”, NYT editors analysed athletes’ performance over years and came to astounding conclusions.

 

 Interactive visualizations

This is actually something most close to data journalism. Interactive data visualizations let users explore hidden connections and see things that raw data would never be able to show. Check out the visualization “The Clubs that Connect the World Cup”.

 

Multimedia Storytelling: “Snowfall”

After the precedent has been set by the “Snowfall“, other stories have emerged. It’s about combination of visual and textual narration, big pictures and picture galleries, videos, animation and infographics. Check out this multimedia story about Chernobyl.

 

Combining many stories in one

Sometimes you just need one story to tell thousands of others. That’s what NYT did with their newly launched data blog The Upshot: “984 Ways the United States can Advance to the Next Round of the World Cup”. The story is heavily based on data analysis and is colour-coded. The green fields show all the possibilities where the US team will advance, the red ones – when it will not.

Another story based on data analysis and combination of different data points is “Here Are the 43,634 Properties in Detroit That Were on the Brink of Foreclosure This Year”.