In 2012, The New York Times ran a story on an avalanche in Washington state that earlier in the year killed three well-known free skiers. The feature, “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” was an ambitious combination of text, pictures, animations, audio, video and maps that would later win the 2013 Pulitzer for Best Feature.
Josh Williams, a multimedia editor for the Times, and one of the many brilliant minds behind the “Snow Fall” project, visited MTSU on Monday, sharing his insight into the evolution of storytelling.
Williams began his presentation Monday evening with a 1981 San Francisco news report describing the then “cutting edge” concept of online news. In the package, a man hooks his telephone up to his modem and begins to wait roughly two hours for a text-only edition of that day’s San Francisco Chronicle to appear on his computer screen. Even that, said Williams, was ahead of its time–the great majority of the advances in online journalism have taken place in the past decade.
The recent transformation in journalism from almost completely linear to more interactive articles, Williams explained, was made possible not only by the traditional use of videos, audio and photos, but also through combinations of info graphics, audio transcripts, animated GIFs and more that provide readers with further information about the stories they are reading.
“We all perceive information differently,” Williams said. “So why not tell the story in a different way?”
One of four multimedia editors for the Times living in San Francisco, Williams began his journey by earning his bachelor’s degree in North Carolina. Between his web developing positions in Washington D.C., his multiple teaching careers and his work with the New York Times, Williams is left with a multitude of works that depict the evolution of storytelling from linear to interactive. Still, he says his portfolio would be unimpressive without the help of the immensely talented and creative people he worked with at the Times.
“Once you form a network and real relationships with people that respect you for your work, stuff starts coming together,” Williams said.
Williams was a web developer before joining the Times, and his projects often integrated aspects of web development, design and storytelling. His works have been recognized by the Society of News Design, the National Press Photographers Association, the Online News Association and many others. He has received four Emmy nominations as well as a Pulitzer Prize win for his work in “Snow Fall.”
“In the storytelling front, I think we have made great strides,” Williams said. “We now have ways to immerse our readers into a story the way maybe videos alone or text alone or photos alone couldn’t.”
Williams, however, cautioned his audience against becoming too focused on multimedia trends.
“The technology will change and evolve, but the storytelling, I hope, continues to be based on the things we’ve already done with the underlying technology.”
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