Did you hear about the recent controversy spurred by a Webster University billboard (shown above) touting their successful chess team? Webster athletes who felt slighted by the tongue-in-cheek statement unleashed a flurry of tweets expressing their dismay. How did a playful ad calling attention to Webster’s academic prowess turn into an insult to the institution’s jocks? Obviously, that wasn’t the intention, but communications can be a tricky game—especially when you add humor to the mix. Sometimes no matter how well-planned your messages are, they can be misunderstood. So what’s a communicator to do? Conduct your research, know your audience and what you’re trying to say, and then make your move.
Late in 2012, the New York Times published a multi-media story called Snow Fall, The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek. If you have not yet seen/read the story, we are happy to introduce it to you here. Snow Fall is a ground-breaking moment in multimedia journalism, one of the first articles to illustrate the dynamic possibilities that occur when new media are thoughtfully integrated with the written word. As you scroll through the story, stunning animated graphics, slideshows, and video interviews add clarity to the unfolding drama. My favorite graphic is the vertigo-inducing flyover of the Cascade Mountains with ranges and ridges graphically delineated. What is particularly exciting is that the visuals enhance the story rather than overwhelm it. In fact, the story runs for a whopping 10,000 words, which is well over the copy count of most magazine articles.
I predict that Snow Fall will mark a change in the way we do multimedia storytelling. The possibilities are as vast as the northwestern mountains.
Who among us has not stared with despair at a blank page or screen as the Very Important Deadline approaches? That dreaded feeling is the price you’ll pay for working in the world of ideas. This telegram sent by Dorothy Parker—famed writer, critic and satirist—to her editor displays her characteristic wit as she describes her bout with writer’s block.
After we’re comforted to know that we are not alone, what can we do to get the creative juices flowing again? What works for me is taking a breather and getting away from the problem for awhile. In fact, I’ve noticed that my best ideas come early in the morning after a night’s rest. The solution will hit me and I can’t wait to get to the office to explore the solution. What works for you?
I recently re-read Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth and became absorbed, once again, in the harrowing and moving world of peasant Wang Lung and his family. Banned in China for years, the book is now hailed by contemporary Chinese writers such as Anchee Min and Maxine Hong Kingston for its authentic portrayal of ordinary Chinese lives. Buck wrote with authority because she pulled from her observations as a missionary’s daughter in China and experienced first-hand the day-to-day lives of the Chinese people around her. Buck also spoke fluent Mandarin and was determined to capture the feel and flow of that language in English. She explained that she conceived the story first in Mandarin Chinese, which she then translated into English. It’s like reading the story in Chinese without the language barrier. That’s why every sentence rings with authenticity. What a wonderful reminder of the power of an authentic voice.