Digital storytelling at its best

The New York Times has just raised the bar, really high, for digital storytelling with the publishing of “Snow Fall: Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.” Beyond the fact that this is a beautiful experience, well written story and seamless integration of multiple technologies this story has far reaching implications. Here are the three that are most important:

1. Maturity of the web. This marks a clear step forward for the web owning its own identity. It emphatically says, “the web is MORE than just print digitized.”

2. Long form content can be successful. When you make great content, regardless of length, people will consume it. We’ve already seen this time and again with the popularity of TED talks. I’m looking at this as the first step to slowing our web consumption down.

3. A move away from CMS only. The only way this story can be created is by moving outside of the current CMS for the NYT. This is important because it’s marking an increasing understanding and willingness to create custom content and then create an experience appropriate for that content as opposed to the standard, “just fit into the CM” way it’s done now.

What makes this experience so great? It’s a well written, engaging story told in six parts that seamlessly integrates video, slide shows, functionality and motion graphics. None of it seems forced. Nothing feels like an afterthought. It all works together to create an immersive experience that gives the reader the ability to choose how surface or deep they want to go into the story.

Here are some screen grabs from the story.

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 10.46.03 AMOpening screen: A looped video of snow drifting over the mountain. The type is exposed above the fold to invite the reader to scroll down.


Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 10.46.10 AMInline video: Hear the story in their own words or just keep reading it’s up to you. Either way, the video is integrated brilliantly into the text. I also like the person name being highlighted in the text as an additional cue that there is something interactive to experience.


Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 10.46.25 AMMotion graphics: Here is the first use of motion graphics with a beautiful and smooth 3D fly through of the mountain range allowing the reading to get familiar with the ski resort and the back country where the avalanche happened.


Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 10.47.10 AM

Screen Shot 2012-12-21 at 10.47.37 AMInline slideshows: Character development is important piece of any good story. Here, the use of slide shows is perfect to get a more intimate knowledge and connection with the main characters of the story. Again, the names in the text are highlighted as an additional cue that there is something interactive to experience.

And, that’s only on the first page of six!

For a deeper dive into the thinking behind getting something like this done and what it might mean for storytelling on the web, here is a great article/interview with the Graphics Director Steve Duenes and Deputy Director, Digital Design Andrew Kueneman from NYT on the Atlantic.

So, what does all this mean for creative firms like us? To me, it’s presents an exciting opportunity to tell stories and communicate ideas in engaging and powerful ways. It also means educating our clients on the benefits of creating stories like this. We started to do it with Access Effect stories but, as you can see, there is A LOT more that can be done!

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek – Multimedia Feature –

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