Mary Knox Merrill on multimedia journalism

Multimedia storytelling is generally a good thing, but like anything else, there can be too much of it.

In the constant push toward new media, it’s easy to surpass the point of diminishing returns in terms of the value digital platforms can add to coverage.

Mary Knox Merrill, associate director of multimedia communications at Northeastern University, talked during a presentation this week about the need to make sure all ways of communication line up in a multimedia story.

Speaking to my to my Reinventing the News class, Merrill, who was formerly a staff photographer at The Christian Science Monitor, highlighted some technical aspects of photography and creating slideshows.

She pointed out that a slideshow can include still images, video, audio and even text, and all of those forms of storytelling need to work cooperatively. I took it as a good reminder that multimedia reports cannot be forced, but need to have a natural flow to be effective.

The fact that there are many tools for creating a dynamic digital story does not mean they all need to be used at once.

But multimedia slideshows often are a great method of storytelling, as demonstrated by one of Merrill’s pieces on rape in the Congo, which she played for my class. A mix of still images and video can keep the story moving in an interesting fashion, and hearing the voices of interview subjects can increase the emotional impact of a report.

Merrill discussed a number of other elements of journalism with my class, but one other piece of advice stood out in particular for me: Don’t be shy. She emphasized the need for journalists to meet people and spend time with interview subjects. Photographers, she said, should not be afraid of getting close to a person – so close as to feel their breath – in search of a good image.

This is an old tenet of journalism that is relevant for projects completed by any method.

Merrill’s presentation to my class focused largely on new multimedia journalism. But it was also a reminder that digital storytelling for the sake of being digital isn’t good enough, and there needs to be a reason why such methods enhance reporting.

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