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Inside “Snow Fall,” the New York Times multimedia storytelling sensation

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Snow Fall,” the widely celebrated New York Times multimedia narrative on a deadly avalanche in Washington State, won a Peabody this week (and would later win the Pulitzer) for being “a spectacular example of the potential of digital-age storytelling.” The project packaged a six-part story by former Pulitzer finalist John Branch, accompanied by interactive graphics, video and character bios of the expert skiers and snowboarders caught in the danger. It also marked the Times’ foray into the e-publishing of long-form singles. [Ed note: The Times package was considered so successful, the paper created a new multimedia-narratives position for project editor Sam Sifton. Other reactions have varied. A July 17 piece in @Medium: "...Almost every example of snowfalling that I’ve seen in action puts reading second to the razzle-dazzle. Can you even remember what happens in Snowfall? Do you remember who wrote it? What did the multimedia help you do?"]

“Snow Fall” opens with an otherworldly video loop of snow blowing across a mountain slope—functioning as a photo that moves—and Branch’s action-oriented lede:

UnknownThe snow burst through the trees with no warning but a last-second whoosh of sound, a two-story wall of white and Chris Rudolph’s piercing cry: “Avalanche! Elyse!”

The very thing the 16 skiers and snowboarders had sought — fresh, soft snow — instantly became the enemy. Somewhere above, a pristine meadow cracked in the shape of a lightning bolt, slicing a slab nearly 200 feet across and 3 feet deep. Gravity did the rest.

Snow shattered and spilled down the slope. Within seconds, the avalanche was the size of more than a thousand cars barreling down the mountain and weighed millions of pounds. Moving about 7o miles per hour, it crashed through the sturdy old-growth trees, snapping their limbs and shredding bark from their trunks.

The avalanche, in Washington’s Cascades in February, slid past some trees and rocks, like ocean swells around a ship’s prow. Others it captured and added to its violent load.

Somewhere inside, it also carried people. How many, no one knew.

This week, Branch walked an audience through the project—conception to clicks—at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. (For the thread, search #SnowFallUGA on Twitter.) Click through for Storyboard’s Storified version of Branch’s talk about the reporting, organization, buildout, intention and editing behind one of the most ambitious storytelling projects in Times history:

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13 trackbacks

  1. by The beauty of Snow Fall « Roaming Tomahawk on April 10, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    [...] makes this “act of journalism” so remarkable, though a few people have an opinion or two. Perhaps I am (sadly) not well-versed in current journalism trends, but if this isn’t a [...]

  2. [...] a swimming pool salesman struggling in a debilitating economy. For the stories behind the stories: Branch walked a University of Georgia and Twitter audience through “Snow Fall” recently; Benham’s colleague [...]

  3. by Zur Zukunft des Journalismus on May 15, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    [...] “… the New York Times multimedia storytelling sensation …” titelt das Nieman Storyboard vom gleichnamigen Journalism Lab. Aber nicht nur die Journalismus-Fachwelt zeigt sich euphorisch, [...]

  4. [...] of the best reads published during the previous week.” Snow Fall, an interactive package, garnered praise for the newspaper last [...]

  5. [...] of the best reads published during the previous week.” Snow Fall, an interactive package, garnered praise for the newspaper last [...]

  6. [...] narrative by The New York Times titled “Snow Fall,” which won a Peabody award as “a spectacular example of the potential of digital-age storytelling.” In many people’s opinions, this account of a deadly avalanche in Washington State marked [...]

  7. [...] not going to exist five years from now.” You know? Look at the New York Times — look at the big avalanche piece. If you want to prepare for your future in journalism, study that. Study Grantland. Study some of [...]

  8. [...] Many of you will have heard of or seen The New York Times John Branch’s (and team) award-winning “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.” I’ve mentioned it before. It’s breathtaking. We all-too-often try to evoke the future of publishing with just words and notions. Yet every now and again there’s something that humbles us as we’re confronted, delightfully, with a clear picture of where things are surely headed. The ”Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” is one of those. (Check out the Neiman Storyboard backgrounder.) [...]

  9. [...] “Inside ‘Snow Fall,’ the NYT multimedia storytelling sensation” – http://www.niemanstoryboard.org/2013/03/29/inside-snow-fall-the-new-york-times-multimedia-storytelli… “Inside ‘Snow Fall’” on Storify – [...]

  10. [...] away – as evidenced by this list of 2013’s best longform writing. The New York Times was so successful with its “Snow Fall” project (a Peabody award-winning feature story about surviving an avalanche told in print, video and [...]

  11. [...] about the New York Times‘ Pulitzer- and Emmy-winning multimedia narrative “Snow Fall,” but the chat between the Tow Center’s Emily Bell and the project editor, Joe Sexton, [...]

  12. by The Future of Media: 10 Trends on March 13, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    [...] away the most important information in the first 100 words, as is the standard. Case in point: NYT’s Snowfall captivated a huge audience— and a Pulitzer—in [...]

  13. [...] Fall did change the landscape for old and new media. Suddenly digital tools made it possible to enhance a story and tell it in a new – and better – [...]

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