Multimedia Pulitzers

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

This past December, the Pulitzer Prize Board announced changes to its rules for journalism submissions, allowing for the first time in 94 years that “entries may use any available journalistic tool, including text reporting, videos, databases, multimedia or interactive presentations or any combination of those formats.” Allowing multiple formats represents more accurately how news is delivered in contemporary media. And as a result of these changes, several prizes were awarded to compelling multimedia entries.

In the explanatory reporting category, the winner was “One In A Billion: A boy's life, a medical mystery,” published in the online version of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. As you can see, this story involved text, video, graphics, and still photography. In fact, the Pulitzer Board noted that the use of multimedia was integral to the success of the piece, crediting the reporters “for their lucid examination of an epic effort to use genetic technology to save a 4-year-old boy imperiled by a mysterious disease, told with words, graphics, videos and other images.”

“Coming Home a Different Person,” published in The Washington Post, was a finalist in the same category. The multimedia series told the stories of military service members who have sustained traumatic brain injury while educating readers about that condition. Its creators comment about their process:

It had an article, five videos and an interactive graphic, all of which told different parts of a complex story. True digital storytelling doesn’t have to be defined as an “article” or a “video” or a “graphic” – it can, and should, stem from and combine the strengths of all our digital tools. We didn’t just throw up a bunch of unrelated content for this project – we found a way to make it all work together.

As a third example, two reporters for an exclusively online news organization, ProPublica, won the prize in the category of national reporting “for their exposure of questionable practices on Wall Street that contributed to the nation’s economic meltdown, using digital tools to help explain the complex subject to lay readers.” This prize was the first given to a group of stories not in print.

What I appreciate about all these stories is that the multimedia choices work synergistically. They do not just passively impart information to viewers; rather, they engage us in a multi-sensory experience of learning. As with good poetry, the form and the content inspire each other.