MediaStorm’s business is divided into four parts. The first is his team’s own, independent journalism projects. The second is co-productions with other journalism organizations, including the Los Angeles Times and MSNBC. MediaStorm and the partner sites co-produce the story, each posts it on its own site, and then they share the advertising revenue. The third is straight client work, which is the real moneymaker. For repeat clients like the Asia Society, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Starbucks, its one corporate client, MediaStorm produces multimedia projects with the same high-quality storytelling as its journalism. “We love to work with NGOs. We love having a mission and resources,” Storm says. “They pay five times what The New York Times would pay for the same content.”
The fourth leg of his business is training others to shoot and edit high-impact multimedia and run a business his way. The workshop films also get showcased on his site. One notable piece is Take Care, an eight-minute story of a twenty-two-year-old woman in Staten Island and her complex family life.
Storm won’t disclose revenue, but profits pay for him and his staff—and their journalism projects. He took a year to produce Intended Consequences, a multimedia story on rapes during the Rwandan genocide. It was the first Web story to win an Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University award, earlier this year. The story also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the victims of Rwandan rapes. “I remember sitting in an office in 1995 and talking about Rwanda while my fifty-year-old bosses said no one would care about that story,” Storm says. “ ‘Audiences are apathetic to those issues and won’t watch it,’ they said. Well, our audience is fired up. They are telling stories every day. They have tools to promote them, on Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. The people who are apathetic are in newsrooms, where they’ve gone through so many layoffs. The audience is hungry for great stories.
“I’m tired of people saying we’re the future. We’re the present,” Storm says. “I have real bills to pay and I make the money to do it.”
There are other places on the Web that experiment with documentary-style storytelling. Honkytonk.fr is one that Duy Linh Tu, a multimedia expert and coordinator of the digital media program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, likes to keep an eye on. The French multimedia production house posts video stories that include many clickable boxes, giving the viewer options for which parts of the story to pursue. Its presentation is not unlike those children’s books that tell you to skip to page 53 if Sharon opens the door, or to flip to page 11 if she keeps it closed. The topics vary, from Euro rock-and-roll to oil industry practices in the Amazon. “It’s really innovative, but also really tedious,” Duy says. “It forces me to click around, so I don’t get a narrative. When I watch video, I expect you to tell me a story.”
Travis Fox, the Emmy Award-winning video producer and pioneer of online multimedia journalism, agrees. “Telling stories online is not as different as people think,” he says. “There’s a debate at the beginning of every Web production about how interactive to make it. I believe you just need to tell a good story and keep it simple.”
I had the privilege of watching Fox do just that when we traveled together as Washington Post correspondents in China’s Sichuan province, after the massive earthquake in 2008 that killed nearly 90,000 people. I wrote my own piece from the top of a rubble pile a couple of days before Travis arrived, but it is his video story from the devastated town of Beichuan that still haunts me. Fox’s position was eliminated at the Post and he’s on his own now, doing work for PBS’s Frontline.