If You Must Snowfall, Please Snowfall in Moderation

The New York Times has just published its latest “Snowfall”—or as I like to call it, Massively Multimedia Epic Heave (MMEH)—and it’s a doozy. “The Jockey,” written by Barry Bearak, is a story about Russell Baze, who at 55 years old, is the winningest jockey in North American racing history.

What I love about the story itself is that it’s an education about someone’s life and career. There is no massive tragedy or plot twist—it’s about one person’s career decisions, and how they impacted his family and his life.

Why did the Times decide to Snowfall this piece in particular? I suspect it has to do with the fact that horses are beautiful animals, horse racing is a thrill to watch, and that afforded them an opportunity to create a visually immersive experience. 

Better still, the Times got a sponsor for the story, BMW, so that they could better integrate advertising into the experience. That’s a huge advancement from what they did with Snowfall, which was just drop in some banners.

So, that was what I liked about the story.

Here’s what I didn’t like about it: This story forced me into a multimedia experience that I did not want. I just wanted to read the story, but instead I was asked to go get headphones, be attached to an Internet connection, and then watch videos after short bursts of reading.

A lot of companies are trying to sell us on multimedia storytelling being “the future,” but I actually don’t want that. At all. I wasn’t into it the first time, back when they were sold as CD-ROMS, and I’m not into it now.

I love watching video, I love listening to podcasts, and I love reading. But most of the time, these are singular experiences. I am doing them separately, depending on whatever mood I’m in.

“The Jockey” also was broken up into short chapters, which seems to be a cute new way of paginating a story even though we all agreed that paginated stories on the web were a sub-par reading experience. If the Times added a “view all chapters” button (thanks, @erikmal) then we’d be set.

I’ve always argued that publishers can and should make their stories “an event.” But we still need to be mindful of not harming the actual reading experience—or overshadowing what is otherwise a great story by Barry Bearak.

Or maybe I’m just a Cranky Old. What do you think?

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