Media critics have been buzzing for more than a week about “Snow Fall,” John Branch’s feature in The New York Times about a tragic avalanche that claimed three skiers’ lives in the Tunnel Creek area of Washington state early last year. Some people say it‘s the future of journalism, and they’re right – in a way. A loud chorus of naysayers who point out that “Snow Fall” is just the Times showing off. They’re right, too.

What’s important isn’t whether this package – which doesn’t fit neatly into the category of article, video documentary or e-book – is a turning point, but rather its importance as an evolution in story-telling. There’s nothing revolutionary about the technology the Times used. It’s the way the elements were combined that makes “Snow Fall” a great experience.Snow Fall Intro screen

For example, some of the graphics unfold as the reader scrolls down the screen, illustrating elements of the narrative in a way that feels seamless and natural. Embedded slide shows appear next to the names of key people in the tragedy, showing them in happier times. It’s a moving tribute to dead and their families that doesn’t seem heavy-handed or maudlin. It’s just part of the story.

Romenesko says the package racked up 3.5 million page views in its first week and that one-quarter of them were new visitors to nytimes.com. Ad Age complains that the ads the Times ran next to the copy nearly ruin the reading experience. Mathew Ingram superbly balances comments from both fans and critics. He concludes that, for all its elegance and beauty, “Snow Fall” still doesn’t address mainstream media’s frustrating fiscal woes. Laura Hazard Owen suggests that the “e-single” version of the feature – which sells for $2.99 – is an important endorsement of the growing mini-book concept.

We dropped by to see what all the fuss was about and ended spending an hour reading every last word and viewing every last video. “Snow Fall” is a visually stunning example of what a well-resourced news organization can produce when it spares practically no expense to break the mold. Few media companies can attempt something so ambitious (although there are some corporate marketing departments that could foot the bill). What’s important about “Snow Fall” is the ideas it introduces – ideas that will be adopted and iterated by other publishers on a smaller scale. We don’t think that’s showing off. It’s just being creative.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 1st, 2013 at 11:40 am and is filed under BusinessModel, Future of Journalism, Journalism, NewMedia, Newspapers. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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