Snow Fall’s John Branch comes to UGA

Observations

Wow. Just wow. This semester started with Boyd’s narrative writing class critically reading and discussing Snow Fall. It’s persisted in various conversations since then, and now everyone wants to “Snow Fall” a story.

So do I. How can I take a long narrative piece and add the appropriate multimedia and coding to make it a full readership experience?

It was interesting to hear what John Branch had to say, especially as the writer who took months to report a story, write a long draft, and then edit it to what we saw. Others produced the multimedia and website look, but he had a say in the experience. Is this only possible at places such as the New York Times?

First of all, he realized the story — which stemmed from a brief and was hosted in the Times’ Sports section — was a “people story” and not an avalanche story. Then he was able to take time to pursue it. Tracking down details about an avalanche in the summer isn’t the easiest job, especially when people were beginning to forget details about what happened that day. But Branch when the full mile, even attending a conference of snow specialists at some point. That helped him and the multimedia designers to figure out how to design the avalanche graphics. What dedication and accuracy!

What started as 83 pages of typed notes and 50,000 words became 28 pages and 16,000 words in the end. The last three months involved graphics work. Can something like this ever be replicated? What will the “next big thing” be, and will The Times do that as well? Branch talked about the Snow Fall process as a “continuum” from previous narrative and multimedia experiments.

An important tidbit — It didn’t make money as a single entity online. How can other organizations justify the time and resources spent on a similar story if it doesn’t make money?

For the future, Branch pointed out that this idea works beet with a single event at a single place that involves chronology. Not having a deadline helped, too, of course.

And on the positive side, Branch sees this as a “nod to readers” because they were considered when it came to multimedia elements and avoiding any distracting pieces. Will it change storytelling? Absolutely.

“We’re realizing we can do things we didn’t know was possible.”

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