Callum Borchers' Blog

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Sometimes, a story just isn’t worth a slideshow

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One of the challenges to creating strong slideshows is selecting story topics that lend themselves to multiple photographs. Perhaps that’s obvious, but I think multimedia is sometimes like a new toy you overuse just because you love it — the riding lawn mower you rev up to decapitate dandelions along the walkway, when a good old weed whacker would suffice.

Boston.com, typically one of the Web’s savviest multimedia utilizers, was on its John Deere today with a slideshow called “Top consumer complaints in Mass.,” which chronicled the most frequent gripes heard by state agencies in 2009. Among 18 photos in the series, just two were Boston Globe originals; a third was a Globe illustration. The rest were only a notch above clip art — generic pictures drawn from iStockphoto, an online database of royalty-free photographs.

The text that accompanied the slideshow was informative, despite a sloppy your-you’re error: I learned the state’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation received more complaints about home improvement contractors than any other industry.

But I think the story could have been told effectively in a more traditional format. A 400-word article with a couple of Globe pics (since the rest didn’t really enhance the story anyway) would have been just fine.

A piece that more clearly warranted a slideshow was BBC.com‘s “Surgical instruments: Dreadful and Divine,” which featured shots of a new exhibit at the Royal College of Surgeons in London. In this case, the photos are the story. An article describing in words alone the house-of-horrors tools once used during medical procedures just wouldn’t be enough. The photographs, however, tell a compelling story with the aid of simple captions.

My only criticism of the BBC slideshow is I wish it included more than five photos.

The cliche is a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true, a slideshow must be pretty valuable. But sometimes a story that isn’t worth a thousand words isn’t worth a picture — and certainly not a slideshow — either.

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Written by callumborchers

September 27, 2010 at 4:30 pm

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