I’ve been playing piano since I was about six years old. My dad bought me an electric keyboard and a beginner’s piano book, and I worked my way through “Three Blind Mice”. Since then, I’ve lulled my grandparents to sleep with Fur Elise and started parties with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”.
With that said, it was hard to see pianos get thrown in a dump.
I recently read through the article “For More Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump” posted by The New York Times. The story features a family business, O’Mara Meehan Piano Movers, and how this business is reacting to the economy; because of electronic pianos, traditional uprights have declined in value so much that old ones aren’t worth repair. The piano movers have no choice but to toss the unwanted pianos in a landfill, rip them apart with a crane and bury them in the soil.
The story was communicated with an article and corresponding video. Although it was only four minutes long, it still provided readers insight into the life of the company’s vice president, Bryan O’Mara, and the process of throwing away pianos.
However, I don’t feel like the story did enough to interest and impact me as a reader. This is additionally disappointing because seeing pianos thrown away breaks little bits of my musical heart.
I’ve found that a better way to truly engage readers in a story is through multimedia journalism. This not only makes stories fun to read, but it captures the audience’s attention and keeps it there. Online readers have many stimuli grabbing their eye: ads, videos, hyperlinks and photos, just to name a few. So how can an online journalist make sure that readers keep their eye on the prize?
Multimedia is one of the best ways. It keeps and captures attention by competing with the other “noise” rampant on the internet.
One example of an article that utilized multimedia well is “How the Jackie Robinson West saga unfolded (timeline)”. As the title implies, the article was written in a timeline format. It includes photos, dates and short snippets of information to update readers on a recent conflict in Chicago. It is easy to navigate and scroll through, which immediately informs the reader what he or she is getting into when clicking on the article hyperlink. There is no guesswork, no boredom and no wondering when the article is going to wrap up.
Another story package I found is much more elaborate, but still a good example of multimedia journalism to learn from. I came across the article “Rebuilding Haiti” on interactivenarratives.org, which provides a plethora of interesting reads, and was immediately hooked. Although the headline is not particularly creative, the deck challenges readers to become a part of the narrative and ropes them in. Next, the story provides a prologue rich with background information, photos and pull quotes to keep readers visually engaged. The most interactive piece of the story uses a quiz to guide readers through the material.
It’s genius, really. And extremely fun.
I would not say the same for the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Although it highlighted the impact of dumping pianos by using a documentary-style video interview, it did not keep me hooked. I felt that the content was redundant toward the end of the story, and I could have stopped reading at the first page. Photos and pull quotes could have helped keep me interested.
Another great option for this story would have been sidebar material or infographics. The New York Times’ graphic designers could have made an infographic showing the amount of pianos bought per year versus thrown away and donated. Likewise, a sidebar or slideshow of different perspectives, photos or more information about the value of pianos could have enhanced its effectiveness. Since I grew up playing piano, I know their worth. But would someone who does not appreciate pianos in the same way still comprehend the impact of the story? I’m not so sure.
I wish I didn’t have to say this, but “For More Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump” went thud. The content was there, but it could have utilized multimedia in a more strategic, interactive way.
*Disclaimer: my post about interactive multimedia does not contain any interactive multimedia. But it’s okay. It’s just a blog post*