How to Tell a Big Story with Multimedia? — A Game of Shark and Minnow

Basic information of the story:

  • Writer: Jeff Himmelman
  • Photographer and Videographer: Ashley Gilbertson
  • Producers: Mike Bostock, Clinton Cargill, Shan Carter, Nancy Donaldson, Tom Giratikanon, Xaquín G.V., Steve Maing and Derek Watkins
  • The date of launch: Oct. 27, 2013


A list of all assets:

Scrolling Images



Background Audios


Animated Maps



A written storyboard:

This is a long digital story about the disputes of the South China Sea, which is divided into two major parts. One is the reporter’s experience on a forsaken ship, Sierra Madre, and other remote islands occupied by the Philippines; another is more general background information about this issue such as the history, claims of related countries, their strategies to occupy islands and interests of different countries.

The whole story has eight chapters, starting with the reporter’s risky arrival on the forsaken ship, Sierra Madre, and ending with his departure from the South China Sea, which increases audience’s engagement and sense of reality. Besides, three chapters of background information alternate with the storyline, showing a bigger picture of this issue. Now, I would like to analyze how this article uses multimedia to tell the story.


Scrolling Images + Background Audios

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Despite static pictures, this article has several series of scrolling images which can slide up and down with explanations beside when audience scroll their mouse. All these scrolling images are presented with background audios such as the sound of sea wind and the sound of dripping water, matching with the images. It gives audience more interactive experience and makes them feel like they were in the scene.



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Not only are images scrolling, clips of videos are scrolling. These clips of videos show the marines’ real life on the Sierra Madre, depicting their poor living standard, little time to get on the phone with their families, and jejune diet—they can only depend on fish as their main means of physical survival.

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This article also uses some clips of videos to show Loresto, who had one of the only real military jobs on the ship, manning the radio and reporting the number and behavior of the boats outside the shoal. Videos show how boring and routine their work is, but contrasting the quotation of Loresto “It’s our job to defend our sovereignty” makes it more powerful to audience.


At the end of the story, the article uses clips of videos to show the reporter’s experience on the helicopter. They are all subjective shots, making audience feel like they were in the helicopter and overlooked the island personally. Though some footages are quite shaky, they give audience a sense of reality.

Another detail I want to mention is that when you scroll to the end of each series of images or videos, the background audios stop either, which makes audience more concentrated to read the following texts.


Data + Animated Maps

In the background information part, the article uses data and animated maps to illustrate the history as well as current situation and disputes of the South China Sea.

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Since it’s about geopolitics, using maps and clear icons is a good way to illustrate this controversial issue, showing the specific location, its historical change as well as current complex geopolitical situation of this area. For example, the Chinese and Taiwanese base claims “the nine-dash line” on Xia and Han dynasty records and a 1947 map made by the Kuomintang, while the current Philippine claim is based mostly on the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea from 1982. Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei also claim the Spratlys for themselves.

Besides, every time you slide your mouse, the animated map zooms in and out of the area to show more detailed information.

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However, about this “WHY” part, it may be better to use more vivid graphics or icons on maps to show different natural resources in this area.

Besides, I think it can be better to create interactive and dynamic maps and graphics. For example, people can see the historical change of territories on a dynamic map chronologically and when audience put their mouse on one related country, its claims can be shown clearly and directly on map.


Some imperfections:

About the structure, I quite like the pace of storytelling, and the supplement of background information. However, in this article, the stories are very long and when one long story is separated by some parts of background introductions, audience maybe can’t recognize the names of characters mentioned before.

About the content, since the Philippines and China are two major sides of this story, the reporter should try to contact and interview some Chinese marines, officials or even fishermen. However, despite several citations of General Zhang’s interview published several months ago and some quotations of an expert in Asia and globalization in Singapore to present and illustrate Chinese strategies around this area, no vivid person or story of the Chinese side was in this article. That is to say, it lacks the voice of China.

At the end of the article, the reporter noted that Subi Reef, one of the Chinese settlements in the South China Sea, is much more developed than any other disputed islands occupied by the Philippines and said, “The entire world has an interest in the South China Sea, but China has nearly 1.4 billion mouths and a growing appetite for nationalism to feed, which is a kind of pressure that no other country can understand.” I think the reporter tried to make the story fair and balanced, but they are all his opinions which are a little bit subjective. So getting more sources from the Chinese side will be better, though I know it’s not easy.



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