“Crowding the Planet:” A Look at Visuals Enhancing, Not Hindering

The package is not simple—there’s a photo gallery with captions, a story with other photographs interspersed, an accompanying short video, and a link to a larger five part series by another author—but it seems simple. Perhaps it is the stark black background in contrast to white print and vivid pictures. Perhaps it is layout (the story reads like a news story). In analyzing “Crowding the Planet” on the LA Times’ multimedia blog Framework, I noted three aspects at which they excelled their visuals were extremely engaging, the text easily read, and the placement of media drew the reader deeper into the story.

The multimedia package “Crowding the Planet” is a news story written in a personal narrative style. The main journalist, Rick Loomis, both wrote the piece and took the photographs for it. The story discusses world overpopulation and the varying issues that come with that: starvation, malnutrition, pollution, lack of resources, polluted water, etc. Loomis beings simply with the phrase, “Seven billion people,” remarking that it is an incredibly difficult number to get your head around. He then discusses how his travels for this story allowed him to see what “seven billion people” look like first hand.

Arguably, the most important piece of this package is the photo gallery. It consists of photography taken by Loomis on his travels to many countries (including India, China, Egypt, the Philistines, and Somalia). The purpose of this photo gallery lines up with the purpose of Loomis’ story: to show what seven billion people actually look like. The very first picture is of a young girl from India, probably around fourteen. She is holding her infant daughter. The background is almost completely dark. You see her and her baby in very bright orange clothing in a very obvious reference to the Virgin Mary.

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I saw this picture and simply looked at it for a good five minutes. The simplistic yet expressive photograph created not just an intellectual interest, but an emotional one as well. I scrolled through photographs ranging from barefoot children in slums, to political protests on overpopulations issues, to the modern city of Shanghai, whose pollution is so high you often can’t see buildings. What I found even more helpful was that below each picture was a meaningful caption. Even though only a sentence or two long, the captions successfully gave context and meaning to the photographs. Even after just looking through the photo gallery, I felt I had absorbed the basic tenants of the story.

The story itself was very engaging because it was told from a personal perspective. I felt as it I was visiting those countries and meeting those people for myself. It gave me statistics while putting it into perspective. It gave me personal story while still being fact filled.

About half way through the story there was a video called “The Challenge Ahead: Raising numbers, shrinking resources.” Like the photo gallery, the visual aspect of the video was beautiful and colorful. However, it also gave fresh information and perspective, adding to the concept of “showing seen billion people.”

The placement of this video and the other media elements within the story were excellent strategic moves. I’ve already discussed how starting with the photo gallery instantly captures the readers’ attention. However, by holding back their video until halfway through the story, the package keeps their audience for longer.

Interestingly enough, many multimedia packages do this the opposite way: they start with the video, followed by text, and then, when they feel the reader might get bored, insert a link to a photo gallery. The problem with this approach is that many news consumers view videos as an alternative means of reading. They watch the video instead reading the words accompanying it. However, a photograph creates an emotional connection with the words. Then, just when the reader might get bored with text (because today’s Americans get bored after about two paragraphs), they place a video. To be honest—not many Americans can pass up a good video. By placing their media in this order, photograph, text, video, Framework both extends the reading time and plays to the strengths of the particular reporter (in this case, photojournalist, Loomis).

“I felt as it I was visiting those countries and meeting those people for myself.”

 

This multimedia package was a very successful one and for two main reasons. First, it successfully captured difficult subjects such as disease and poverty in a way that was both beautiful and informative. Also important to note, it was done in a very respectful manner towards the human subjects. This is extremely important when dealing with social issues, such as over-population and poverty.

Secondly, each element of this package successfully added to the overall story without simply regurgitating facts, photographs, and information. As I explored, I felt like I learned more. Even with such an extensive package, the repetition was kept at a minimum. This also increased the time the news consumer stays on the site because they feel as though they are learning new information.

The main angle of Rick Loomis was to inform about overpopulation by showing what seven billion people actually looked like, through photography, video, statistics, and personal narrative, and his package was largely successful at doing that. As I explored, experienced, and learned, I realized: perhaps this is what multimedia journalism is best at. Perhaps that is why multimedia news is exploding—because it can show the story, whether that be through video, through photography, through maps, through links, in a way more engaging, informative, and understandable than media. And for someone who wants to be a journalist to inform—that fact makes multimedia journalism incredibly exciting.

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