Turning numbers into people: The advantage of a multimedia piece

Emotion has always played one of the largest parts in a story. It turns words on a piece of paper into an issue worth caring about.

This is especially true for video, where the emotion is conveyed through sights and sounds, rather than just words. It’s what makes the audience decide to watch the story, what makes them continue digesting the piece, and finally, what keeps the story on their mind long after the video is done playing.  It turns John Doe, 67, of Amherst, Mass. into a living breathing person with a tear in their eye, instead of being just another faceless source.

Sometimes, however, an emotional video piece can lose its credibility if it forgets to add enough fact based content to add context. It is often difficult to strike a balance between fact and story in a five-minute-or-less video. It might come off as insensitive to break up an emotional story with a voice over of facts and statistics, however, without fact or context, it is tough to call the piece journalism.

The emergence of multimedia journalism has made this balance much easier to strike. Take the New York Times‘ piece, Up in Years and All but Priced Out of New York.

The written portion of the piece gives an overview of the elderly housing shortage problems in New York City. It cites officials, includes statistics and graphs, and explains the reasons behind the problem, all while describing small snapshots of individual elderly people affected by the shortage.

It is not until we spend almost four minutes with 90-year-old Holocaust survivor Bella Hornung, that the emotion behind the issue comes out.

The video of Bella does very little to explain the greater problem of the lack of elderly housing in the city. Instead, it highlighted the relationship between grandparent and grandchild, reminding each viewer that it could just as easily be their grandparent being displaced. It provided a detailed story of a woman who has been through more in her life than most, a woman who wants to live out her days near her family without moving around again. A woman who deserves the basic right of housing, but is currently fighting to get just that.

After reading the written piece, I see an inevitable problem as the baby boom generation gets older. After watching the video I understand that it is a problem that needs to be fixed right away.

The combination of the two media create a truly well rounded piece of journalism, complete with all of the desired aspects of a story. Could each piece have stood alone without the other supporting it? Probably. Does the combination of the two make the story an extremely fine example of journalism? Absolutely.


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