December 16, 2008

The urge to make and read year-end lists has created this opportunity to look at some interesting multimedia published in 2008.

The big kids really knocked it out of the park, especially on political coverage. The New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC and USA Today all produced some outstanding work that got a lot of attention, both on this site and elsewhere. But there are also some interesting multimedia projects done by local and specialized news organizations you might have missed this year.

Here’s my completely arbitrary criteria: I selected projects that combine multiple media forms and storytelling techniques to provide journalistic information. This is not a “best of” list — I’ll leave that to the various and sundry contest judges to decide. Instead, it’s a list of pieces that caught my eye because they tried something new, did something especially creative, served their local community well or illustrated a trend in this year’s multimedia. I largely avoided election-related interactives, because there was so much good work out there Poynter has highlighted elsewhere.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorites:

Two mid-sized cities did a great job with map-based storytelling. During a February snowstorm, the Spokesman-Review created Storm Stories. The project combines very professional videos and photos with user-submitted stories and photos. Especially smart is the “I can help/I need help” section. Even now, it’s fun to look through the project. This summer, after a devastating tornado hit Parkersburg, Iowa, the Des Moines Register developed a package of photos, audio and video that shows both the devastation and the rebuilding, house by house.

With the reopening of Philadelphia’s Please Touch Museum, used a fictional character, a girl named Kali who discovers a magic book in her cupboard, as a guide to the museum. The “book” uses panoramas, audio and photography to introduce users to both the relocated museum and the history of Memorial Hall. once again shows you don’t have to be big to produce large, impressive work. With “Age of Uncertainty,” the site tackles issues related to the region’s booming elderly population. It combines wonderful narrative, compelling video and photography, terrific use of mapping, and interactive activities to aid caregivers. Another expansive project is the Las Vegas Sun‘s History of Las Vegas.” The interactive casino history map and explanation of mob ties are terrific. And who can resist hotel implosion videos?

The Globe and Mail‘s “Talking to the Taliban” is one of the best attempts to tackle international coverage in multimedia that I came across. Using cell phone video, an interviewer asked 42 Taliban fighters in Kandahar a set of standard questions. From there, the story is told with both reporter-based perspective videos and the raw interviews. It’s a rare, fascinating look inside a group of people we still know very little about.

There were a number of other large video stories this year, and the Detroit Free Press’ project, “Where children find hope,” is an example of how good they can be. It follows several boys at Christ Child House, a group foster home on Detroit’s west side, and uses them to highlight the issues facing kids in the foster care system. (Poynter’s Al Tompkins interviewed the visual journalists involved.)

Simple interactive graphics seem to have lost favor lately. I suspect it’s the time investment they require, but there are places are doing interesting work with them. The Wisconsin State Journal ( did a number of good ones this year, including “Behind the Booms,” which lets you create your own fireworks display. Their “Down to a Whisper: State’s native languages threatened with loss” is worth a look. And I don’t think I want my mother to know I did quite well recognizing Wisconsin craft beer labels. Portfolio magazine is regularly cranking out interesting business-related interactive graphics. The weekly news quiz keeps me humble without making me feel like an idiot.

Sports is a field ripe for database work and the trend that took off with a bang last year kept growing. tracked Manny Ramirez’s hunt for 500 homers, and The Indianapolis Star did a nice job with the “Manning Meter,” which tracks Peyton Manning as he breaks quarterbacks’ records. I like how they fleshed out the database work with photo galleries, a kid’s game and the archives of their Manning coverage.

Discovery Channel regularly produces outstanding multimedia projects based around its programming. I had trouble choosing between “Human Body: Pushing the Limits” with its smart animated graphics, and the Time Warp interactive that lets you play the videos at your own speed. It’s a challenge to make video interactive, so I’m always looking for ways people are trying it.

Minnesota Public Radio continues to make games for smart people. This year, with Budget Hero, you make the national budget choices and see the impact of policy decisions. And it’s fun! Also this year, you can be the judge on some of the challenged ballots in the Coleman/Franken election. (The Star Tribune lets you see and vote on all 5,922 challenged ballots.)

What I also found interesting this year was the number of journalistic multimedia projects done outside news organizations. There were some outstanding examples.

Photographer James Nachtway won the TED prize last year, and he used the prize money to spread the word on extreme drug resistant tuberculosis (XDRTB). What made the project so interesting was not the resulting audio slide show — although that’s stunning –- but the viral (hah!) way the project was unveiled with teases and links on blogs and Web sites around the world.

One of the most comprehensive projects anywhere this year was the Council on Foreign Relations Climate Crisis Guide. Produced in collaboration with MediaStorm, the navigation is very clean and logical for such a complex topic. Much of the information is provided in interactive videos that let you jump to the topic or question that interests you most, and there are a wealth of resources.

While it’s not groundbreaking, the combination of fun and information in the AARP’s “1968: The Year That Rocked Our World” was hard to beat. With a timeline, historic videos, new interviews and music, it’ll give those old enough to remember flashbacks.

America: Love It or Fix It” from Good is a series of numbers and fact-based videos — always a trick to pull off well, plus comments and a blog on critical issues.

I’m sure I missed a lot of great work, so if you’ve got recommendations on other good multimedia projects this year, I’d love to hear them. Add them in the comments below, or shoot me an e-mail.

Thanks to one of my favorite nerds, Will Sullivan (aka Journerdism), and one of my favorite professors, Mindy McAdams, for helping me round out the list. If you want to find more good examples, check out, or

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Regina McCombs is a faculty member of The Poynter Institute, teaching multimedia, and social and mobile journalism. She was the senior producer for multimedia at…
Regina McCombs

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