Professor discusses uses of multimedia journalism

A Penn State professor visited Linfield on March 19 to lecture about the continued importance of good writing and reporting in multimedia journalism.

Professor Russell Frank centered his lecture on a dynamic story published in December by The New York Times titled “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.”

Frank said the reaction to the story was overwhelmingly positive, with some people wondering if this type of multimedia story was the future of journalism.

“This story caused a sensation,” Frank said.

The “Snow Fall” story, written by John Branch, is about an avalanche at Stevens Pass in Washington in 2010. The story included embedded videos, slideshows and motion graphics.

But Frank’s lecture did not focus on the multimedia or aesthetic aspects of the story. Instead, he used the story as an example for the importance of good journalistic research and writing.

“We have to write beautifully and gather information…the easiest thing to do for a reader is to stop reading,” Frank said.

Frank found the praise for “Snow Fall” merited, but he also thought it was strange that many reactions to the story suggested this was the first type of multimedia and interactive story ever published.

To counter this sentiment, Frank proceeded to draw attention to the “Blackhawk Down” story written by Mark Bowden in 1997 for the Philadelphia Inquirer. The story increased the Philadelphia Inquirer’s circulation by 20,000 during the month it was published, and Bowden parlayed the success into a book and a 2001 Hollywood movie of the same name.

Bowden’s story had embedded audio and links to video as well, and this story was published more than 15 years ago, when the Internet was far from what it is today.

Frank noted that the writing in “Snow Fall” was excellent, and far more aesthetically beautiful and technologically advanced. However, the “Blackhawk Down” story was incredible for its writing, just like all good long-form stories. Frank closed his lecture with this point, and said journalists should continue to focus on writing as much as possible because of its continued importance.

When asked after the lecture as to why “Snow Fall” was published this way, rather than a story about a larger event or theme, Frank reminded the audience that the story is dramatic, and dramatic stories are popular.

He acknowledged the importance of this question in relation to long-form journalism, because of the need to spend resources wisely as newsrooms face harsh budget issues, predicting future events that will be possible long-form stories is not possible.

Frank was a newspaper reporter and editor for 12 years before his career at Penn State University. In addition to teaching journalism at Penn State, Frank is the education chairman on the board of directors of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and writes about journalism ethics, literary journalism and Internet folklore.

Tyler Bradley/Sports columnist

Tyler Bradley can be reached at l[email protected].