In this story from the Washington Post video, animation, text and photography are blended together wonderfully. This was actually a story assigned to me in another class but there are so many elements that make it worth posting here. The story engages the reader emotionally by illustrating the world of post-Soviet Union Romanian orphanages through the eyes of an individual profoundly affected by growing up in one. You feel like you know Izidor Ruckel so well by the end of the story because you’ve heard him in his own voice, watched him grow from childhood and develop into the person he is today. The piece does not allow for a lot of interactivity, aside from the video, this is just a scrolling story with a prettier design than most, but I think that simplicity works just fine in this case.
Link to the story:
Photo Credit: Brad Horn
Written Analysis below:
The multimedia team at the Washington Post had to get creative when they pieced together the visuals for “A lost boy finds his calling” because so much of this story takes place in the past. Part of the solution was to get an animator to work on the video.
Only a little bit of footage from the subject’s childhood existed when the video department got involved. Izidor Ruckel, the subject of the story, appeared on 20/20, but this was not enough to make a complete video from.
These elements accompany the rest of the video story, and it’s helpful because the viewer can see things that writing doesn’t do justice to. Izidor had polio and so he walks with a limp. But it’s much more powerful to see that than it is to read about it.
The text story benefits from being broken up into different sections because its a somewhat long read. Photos taken at the orphanage make up the parts about Izidor’s youth. These provide a window into the past, and a couple are very heart wrenching, but they fail to tell the whole story. The same goes for the photos that were taken for the Washington Post.
Besides photos, a map of Romania with the orphanage and the town where Izidor’s parents were located is helpful since most readers are probably not familiar with the country’s geography. The story also uses an infographic at one point because Izidor’s story can be placed in context with thousands of other Romanian orphans.
The multimedia elements in this story make sense in the way they’re used. If audio interviews were a part of the story they might feel redundant because of the video. If there was a musical track that could have been distracting. The take away lesson is one from design: less is sometimes more.
The multimedia elements complement and add to the text story. The video brings in details and characters who are left out of the text story. But this story, and all others like it, showcase the strengths and weaknesses of online as a storytelling platform.
The video does a good job of appealing to the viewer’s emotional sensibilities. The text story is more engaging to a reader on an intellectual level. This is probably just inherent in their separate mediums. Audio and video always have more immediacy than text.
What sets this story apart from most others is the kind of investment that went into the production process. It was more than a year in the making; an ambitious project that attempted to transcend journalism, and instead strive towards art. But the fundamentals of journalism are still there: fairness, accuracy, the subject telling the story in their own words.
I think the most interesting thing this story does is make a statement about the future of journalism. Newsiness isn’t the most important thing for this piece because there isn’t a strong timely element to it. Instead, what makes it compelling lies in — not when — but how the story is told.