Multimedia reporting is defined as a “combination of text, still photographs, video clips, audio, graphics and interactivity presented on a Web site in a nonlinear format in which the information in each medium is complementary, not redundant” (Stevens). In the article Breaking the Silence by writer Matthew Hay Brown, the issue of sexual assault within the military –specifically on men –is analyzed through the use of various multimedia tactics. The piece itself is extremely sensitive; many men in the military do not come forward to report sexual assault. Due to this sensitivity, Brown does an effective job by supplementing text with relevant multimedia pieces, ultimately creating a comprehensive story for the reader. As Mindy McAdams states:
Complement, don’t repeat. In multimedia storytelling, various media types (not only video) are employed and interconnected. Ideally, each one is used in a way that makes the most of its strengths. Components of the story are crafted to complement one another. Redundancy will detract from the experience—that is, if aspects of the story are told in video and also in the text, users might lose interest quickly. (McAdams)
Far too often, journalists fail to maintain their readers attention due to an overabundance of media within a story, especially when the piece is long-form. Long-form journalism is “A traditional news feature [that] starts with an anecdote or scene, moves to a nut graph that tells the reader where the story is going and then spends the rest of the piece explaining and supporting the nut graph” (Allen). Long-form, though unpopular in some regard, is an efficient way to engage a reader when done correctly, as shown in Breaking the Silence.
Importance of Chunking
There is variety of techniques employed when writing for the web. Breaking the Silence uses chunking to properly guide the reader through the piece, without losing attention or causing dullness. Chunking is an extremely useful way to tell a story that has many components to it. As Kivi Leroux Miller states, “When you chunk text, you break down what may have started as one really long article into smaller, manageable, more easily understood blocks of text” (Miller). Although this article is not short, the writer breaks the story into five parts that “can stand on their own, but that also fit within the larger context of [the] website” (Miller).
The topic of sexual assault is one that contains many years of research. As mentioned in the article, rape has existed within the military for decades. In that time, there has been a plethora of information gathered that definitely could have been incorporated into this piece. However, it can be assumed that without chunking, the reader would most likely would have been overwhelmed. The ability to read a chapter of this article allows for information digestion, curiosity, and intrigue to read on.
One of the most important aspects in telling a story like Breaking the Silence is supporting claims with data. Throughout the last decade, data visualization has become a significant part of news reporting. Writer Daniel Waisberg states that,
Data journalism (and analytics in a broader sense) is a form of curation. There is so much data and so many data types that only experienced analysts can separate the wheat from the chaff. Finding the right information and the right way to display it is like curating an art collection. (Waisberg)
The article does a superb job in implementing interactive data along with standard information. For example, in the section Everybody’s Vulnerable, Brown embeds a tool in which the user can select the accuser’s gender and allegation type in order to generate specific statistical data.
If this tool was located somewhere else online, it remains self-sufficient. This is one the main pillars of good data visualization practice. Waisberg goes on to say:
A good data visualization does a few things. It stands on its own; if taken out of context, the reader should still be able to understand what a chart is saying because the visualization tells the story. It should also be easy to understand. And while too much interaction can distract, the visualization should incorporate some layered data so the curious can explore. (Waisberg)
When taking on a topic such as sexual assault in the military, it can be difficult to get the average person to truly comprehend the magnitude of the issue. Joseph Lichterman explains that “there’s creating a sense of scale around the coverage. A lot of this stuff can feel almost so big that it can be ungraspable by the audience, and therefore they become indifferent” (Lichterman). It is evident that Brown utilized proper use of data visualization within Breaking the Silence.
Benefits of Alternative Media
In addition to data visualization, author Matthew Hay Brown employs supplemental video and images into his piece. It can be assumed that while planning this article, Brown analyzed what multimedia tactics would best serve his readers. The Multimedia Journalist states that,
The first step to spotting multimedia potential in a story is determining whether there is enough depth to warrant a layered approach that contains several discreet pieces. In other words, is there an aspect of the story that would make for great video. (George-Palilonis)
Certainly, the integration of a video that contains the story of one of the men written about in the piece warrants utilization. Not only is the video extremely captivating, it puts a face to the name, thus causing the reader to dive even deeper into the article.
Breaking the Silence is a clear example of when video should be used to support long-form journalism.
Next, one of the less significant features of the article is the use of a chunking timeline.
Timeline’s assist the reader to maintain a linear flow when digesting information. As previously mentioned, chunking also follows a similar principle. The sections within the piece engage the reader to interact with the links that would guide them to specific areas. Though subtle at best, this is definitely a multimedia tactic that is extremely beneficial in long-form pieces.
In conclusion, multimedia reporting, though somewhat novel in nature, is one of the most effective platforms that journalists have today. It is an ever-growing field that seems almost immeasurable in potential. As Mindy McAdams describes, “Multimedia storytelling continues to evolve as more journalists experiment with the possibilities opened up by new digital tools and techniques” (McAdams). It is clear that Matthew Hay Brown demonstrates keen knowledge in the use of multimedia as all forms displayed in Breaking the Silence create a clear and concise picture of sexual assault within the military.
The decision to utilize chunking was a beneficial one. The reader is exposed to an easily digestible and holistic story that promotes action. Not only are the sections extremely well written, they also contain some type of media that hits an emotional note within readers. For example, three out of the five sections contain portraits of the men who were sexually assaulted, which leave a resounding sense of reality.
Not only are these men a part of the story, but also the face of long awaited movement. All in all, Brown does an effective job to create a comprehensive story of a complicated and serious issue within the military.