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Five years on from Snow Fall, has storytelling changed?

June 21, 2017




I remember where I was when Snow Fall happened.

I was sitting in a newsroom that was doing valiant battle with all things digital, and when I clicked on this a-lot-hotter-than-snow piece of content, my blood ran cold.

A mixture of professional envy, a large dose of "How the...??", and a quick gulp of panic at how far behind we were.

This was the future of storytelling and journalism.

This was how you won the Pulitzer prize. 


It even became a verb. To 'snow fall', according to former NYT editor Jill Abramson, "now means to tell a story with fantastic motion graphics and video and every kind of multimedia riches”


It's five years in December since that seismic publication (a term that even then sounded too old for Snow Fall), and even though this post is way ahead of that anniversary, my recent exploration of storytelling apps and platforms has me thinking about how the digital weather has changed since then. 


At the time, there was a team of 16, yes sixteen people behind the production, not including the award-winning journalist John Branch, whose excellent content in any case was the nucleus of the whole thing. 


A raft of news organisations went wild to jump onto one of the new multi-media platforms that would put this stuff together for you, for which subscription cost was a major consideration.


Five years on, platforms like Atavist enable you to tell very rich digital longform stories, with images, video, audio, and whatever you're having yourself, even with just the free subscription.


Although, if Atavist is a success story, it appears that many other premium desktop storytelling platforms, such as Storehouse, have gone to the wall, wiped out presumably by Facebook and Instagram, and the general shift to mobile. There is far more growth in the mobile app department, with Adobe Spark currently making of the art telling stories with pictures and sound as easy as can be.


The unsurprising thing is though, that stories are still the same.

Snow Fall began life as a traditionally crafted story and the bells and whistles came later. We're exposed to so much now that it's refreshing to land on a simple, well-told story, like this one about the McCandless 'Into the Wild' pilgrimage.



It's quite text-heavy but really well-written and designed for a deeper read. The pictures are sparing but huge and powerful, and the video clip is mind-blowing.

It's all quite stripped-back but all the richer for it.


Snow Fall has stuck forever. It still looks and sounds amazing, and it was a Eureka moment for media. But somehow I doubt it would make the same technological rumbles today. The Guardian runs multimedia as a given on its website every single day. The web is full of sites with video loops, data visualisation and audio experiences.

We may have settled down to the realisation that it doesn't matter how visual and hooky the media is. In the absence of a good story, the emperor has no clothes.



Niamh Guckian is the Director of Go Motion Academy

Providing Training in Video for Social Media & Digital Marketing




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