Week 11: Stories in New Media

The new media stories in this week’s reading succeeded in drawing me in enough that I repeatedly felt a bit distracted from the purpose of navigating them in the first place. Though I have no particular interest in freeskiing, the New York Times piece offered vivid pictures of the central subjects as individuals in a way that made me feel more invested in their stories. Seeing the pictures of twelve of the skiers as children contributed to this sense in an interesting, if slightly manipulative way. The gorgeous photos of the Cascades made the scene easy to visualize, enhancing the narrative drama. Video interviews ran perhaps a little long, compared to the soundbites in the Guardian NSA piece, but were inserted in a more traditional way that made them feel somewhat natural. Auto-play functions on the visualizations, but not the video clips, felt right. These were similar to the still photos in their impact, with the augmented labels adding useful perspective. The rotation of some of the images did make me feel slightly queasy. One slight frustration was the inability to gauge the length of the visualization, particularly in the case of the frost explanation. Multiple steps in the presentation made if difficult to be sure when the visualization was finished. The actual story meandered into personal anecdotes more frequently than felt necessary (not sure I needed to know about the details of Jack’s RV or the Brenans’ chickens). The repetition of photos and quotes from captions was not surprising, not not very rewarding to readers who take the time to look through all the media. My favorite element of this piece was the graphic demonstration of how air bags are deployed. It was a helpful illustration (as well as a slightly amusing one). The link to the e-book and documentary at the end felt slightly incongruous, promotional. Overall the story is absorbing, though I wonder why it specifically was chosen for such expansive treatment. The model offers an interesting one that could be used in historical contexts, especially those on highly visual and clearly chronological topics.

The Guardian’s NSA piece was similarly well-done, and made me wonder why I hadn’t seen other articles like it before. The auto-play feature on the video clips was slightly nerve-wracking (though perhaps not as much as the floating heads themselves). Still, this was something that did not take long to adjust to using. Having photos (and voices) of the sources emphasized the diversity of expertise and perspectives, underscoring the broad relevance of the issue. The graphic explanations were helpful, if still slightly confusing at times, and added balance to the media variety. Options to delve deeper into the story through expandable documents and extended interviews felt welcome, even if the majority of readers don’t probe that deeply. A story of this complexity and significance merits the rich content, and I felt much more certain about why the Guardian chose to go to such lengths to produce this piece.

Invisible Australians covers a fascinating topic, and the site starts off rather impressive. The homepage is cleanly designed, the mission stated clearly. As is unfortunately common with history sites, however, the blog has been inactive for a while – two and a half years since the last post. Many links are broken and the “Resources” section links largely seem to redirect to previous pages on the same site. The state of the site raises questions about how best to retire history websites and blogs. When the owners inevitably move on, what plans should they have in place to maintain the site’s sense of relevance? Is there a way to stop blogging that doesn’t gesture at a state of neglect – perhaps with a formal notice of the writer’s “retirement” as the last post, or a structured timeline for the blog set from the start? It seems there are a few hazards of new media that historians (and journalists) have yet to fully think through, though these issues are likely symptomatic of the “new” rather than the medium itself.


Northeastern student in journalism, history & international affairs. Cats, bats, tea, travel, museums, mangoes, public radio and podcasts.

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