Seven jurors, six days, 373 multimedia entries. The winners of the 2014 World Press Photo Multimedia Contest have been announced today. As chair of the jury, I wanted to share some reflections.
What we were looking for
Multimedia touches a variety of roles and professions. The jury reflected this, with international members from different backgrounds including visual journalism, documentary, interactive and academia.
Judging is a negotiation of priorities and points of view. For almost one week, we reviewed the merits of each submission — often spending just as long examining its faults.
The competition focuses on narrative and interactive multimedia created for the web with a journalistic approach. If we have been successful, this year’s winners will inspire the next generation of work.
In the Feature categories, we looked for compelling linear narratives, well told, informative, memorable, with strong characters at their heart. In the Interactive Documentary category, we sought projects that use the medium to explain more and bring you closer.
It takes 1 hour and 47 minutes to watch the winning feature stories — not including the interactive documentaries. Here is what you will find:
1st Prize, Long Feature: Witnessing Gezi revisits escalating protests against developments in Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park. It sets itself apart from daily news video with its human focus. Solidarity, exhaustion, panic are all captured, making these events vivid.
There is tension from the start, as street furniture is dragged up Istakal Caddesi, Istanbul’s main shopping street. Beyond the drama of crowds and clashes, it is nuanced with surprising observations including a scuffle that breaks out between police officers.
2nd Prize, Long Feature: Behind the scenes in the New York mayoral race, Hers to Lose follows Christine Quinn’s failed campaign for the Democratic primary. It is a story about tribes, relationships and sincerity.
Examining the faces of public and private life, there is a small story about a couple within a bigger one about the rough and tumble of politics. Superbly executed, it has been well edited for a web audience.
3rd Prize, Long Feature: In Swan Song, two sisters refocus their lives when their mother is diagnosed with dementia. With universal themes of family and age, this story touched everyone on the jury. Besides being exceptionally well shot with strong interviews, the team behind it clearly invested time to follow it through.
1st Prize, Short Feature: In Staff Riding, young people risk serious injury to ‘surf’ trains in South Africa. A youth story with a youth format — the design also references the journey of the trains running through Katlehong township. It relies on natural sound, not music, for atmosphere.
Short and well paced, it must have been a challenge to film. The risks involved raise questions about the subjects’ motivations and state of mind. This quote stuck with me: “I am not afraid to die. I am just afraid how I am going to die.”
2nd Prize, Short Feature: In March 2012, US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales killed 16 unarmed Afghan civilians. In Silent Night, their relatives recount the sequence of events and their search for justice. These captivating interviews give a voice to the victims in a way no narrator can.
3rd Prize, Short Feature: Calcio Storico uncovers a historic sporting tournament fought out every year in the centre of Florence. Fiercely territorial, the teams represent four neighbourhoods of the city. This piece follows one team as it prepares to redeem the shame of their loss the previous year. Ambitious in its approach and gripping throughout, it speaks to tradition, community and pride.
1st Prize, Interactive Documentary: A Short History of the Highrise explores vertical living over the past 2,500 years. Suitably using a storybook format, you can watch through or pause to learn more at any point. Drawing upon the archives of the New York Times, it extends far beyond to examine issues of social inequality.
This project goes to show how existing material and new coverage can be successfully combined. It is playful, educational and wholly engaging. Flip old photographs to see original markings on the back. Readers’ photographs are organised and captioned to become part of the story.
2nd Prize, Interactive Documentary: The best interactives bring clarity to complex subjects. There is undoubtably a fashion for long-form text with supporting illustrations. NSA Files: Decoded stands apart by putting you at the centre of the story.
Information is visualised and presented in relative terms — even connecting to Facebook for user-specific context. Interviewees look directly into the camera as they make their case. The pared back design works equally for viewers who are time-short or want to read from start to finish.
3rd Prize, Interactive Documentary: Hollow examines the issues of shrinking population in rural America. It employs a host of interactive techniques, but I especially like the way the McDowell County community were involved in creating the piece. I hope to see more of this.
Tips to improve your multimedia
Like all journalism, multimedia needs a strong lead. Put yourself in the shoes of the user. You have seconds to grab their attention and resist the temptation to hit the close button. The best work is tightly edited, well paced and engaging throughout.
Some interactive entries included highly original concepts, which presented issues of usability. Innovation cannot be at the expense of clarity. Communication is the essence of journalism.
Some quick tips from my notes:
- Seek visual continuity between video and stills.
- Do not leave obvious questions unanswered. Push harder to give context.
- Find a way to surprise, especially when working with a familiar topic.
- Narration can be effective but nothing beats the voice of the subject.
- Conduct interviews in the subject’s native language. It will be clearer.
- Attention to detail with audio can set your work apart.
- Music is emotionally charged. It can elevate but also destroy.
- Create breathing space, but take care not to lose the viewer’s interest.
- User experience is critical. Give a sense of scope and completion.
- Seek feedback prior to release. It will improve your work.
What is to come?
Though the term “multimedia” has fallen out of fashion, I find the alternatives equally vague. At best, it represents a benchmark for digital storytelling that makes the most of the medium. Clearly this is a moving target.
It is remarkable that the number of entries to the contest has increased by one third since last year. The quality of submissions indicates many have a good grasp of production — a promising indicator of things to come.
The World Press Photo Multimedia Contest is free to enter and international in its ambition. The submissions were more geographically diverse than I had expected. The nine winners span five countries.
Multimedia storytelling is reaching subjects beyond hard news. The winners point to several aspects of the human condition, such as family, culture, sport, conflict and politics.
Interactive documentaries are costly to produce and usually the product of teamwork. Partnerships between organisations are common. The United States, Canada and France are leading the charge with investment and creativity.
There is no one model for success. You can work in teams large or small; with the backing of a major organisation or local community. The smallest stories can point to wider truths. Take the right approach for the story you want to tell. The possibilities are immense.
The awards will be presented at the Awards Ceremony on Friday, 25 April 2014 in Amsterdam.