San Francisco’s Class War takes a closer look at the division of wealth amongst the San Franciscan community. The piece begins describes San Francisco’s ongoing plight – wealth is being literally driven into the city while those financially struggling are having to relocate in order to afford to live in or around the city. The story takes an illustrated approach to communicate its plot points and statistics. Most of the other finalists for the 2014 Online Journalist Awards had much more visually obvious multimedia elements that could be discussed, but the lack of standard multimedia elements in this project is what appealed to me, and provided a challenge that I felt able to surmount through crafting this case study.
At first glance, this multimedia story doesn’t appear to provide many storytelling elements to help communicate and accentuate its points. But what appears to just be a large simplistic infographic, is actually a multimedia piece that utilizes several data storytelling elements in order to communicate the current economic issues of San Francisco through visual means. The illustration is informative, concise, and effectively portrays San Francisco’s Class War.
Elements and storytelling formats
Text formatting –
As discussed in the Poynter article, “News organizations experiment with ‘illustrated storytelling’ — a new way to tell serious stories”, when a story might have logistical limitations hard to grasp, illustrations help provide a powerful story form. This multimedia project does not feature any text other than what is within the illustration. The text is fact heavy, but separated into individual comics making the data easier to grasp. This separation forces the reader to follow the direction of text that the journalist has dictated.
Instead of posting technical graphs and charts, the journalist has decided to display these statistics through illustrations like the examples below:
As David Sleight suggests in the Nieman Lab article, “What happens when you engage design with reporting”, design helps readers look at information in a different, possibly more beneficial understanding light. He states, “these well-designed big stories help put a human face on it and drive home the importance and what the reader should take away from it.”
The plot structure of this multimedia presentation is unlike typical long form stories. It doesn’t follow the familiar dramatic structure, as seen in our Storytelling formats module and instead relies on somewhat of a non-linear narrative. Instead, this story builds facts upon facts escalating the rising action in order to expatiate the problem of financial inequality in the city. The project first focuses on the positive effects that technology has provided for the city in areas like job growth and unemployment.
As the illustrations demonstrates the few positive effects of the now technology driven city, it quickly diminishes these positive statistics with the negative result that these jobs are having upon the less wealthy citizens in the city. Through additional illustrations, the viewers see that rent prices have increased, vacancy rates have gone up, and there are discrepancies between transit ridership and an unwillingness for major tech companies to help fund the public transit that the majority of their workers take to commute. The story concludes with a short climax and open ended conclusion proposing the reader to think of the bigger picture with data from a general poll taken by the Wall Street Journal. People (not just from San Francisco) were asked which word describes the state of the nation and “divided, troubled, and deteriorating” were among the top answers given. Having this multimedia project end with a poll that includes all citizens, validates why this article is important and how what is happening in San Francisco is likely to occur elsewhere across the nation.
The journalist attempts to inculcate the information that this is a problem that could affect the majority of people in urban environments and we as a society need to be aware that these problems are present.
There is absolutely no obvious form of interactivity for this piece. It does covers a very thought provoking issue, leading to future discussion of San Francisco’s class war on social media, which, in that sense, could be considered interactive on a broader level. There is no social media influence directly on the page that hosts the story, other than an option to share the story on Facebook and Twitter, and an empty comment section below the piece, but I would not consider these to be true measures of interactivity. Social media embeds would not have been appropriate for the overall illustrative design of this project, but it would have been advantageous to encourage more users to post their thoughts on social media. When searching for more discussion on this project, Twitter is booming with discussion concerning the class war, even posting a link to this article two years after it was originally published, proving its consistent relevancy. This multimedia project could have benefited from animated illustrations, forcing the user to click through the piece. This could have been a simple addition that would incorporate the user to continually follow along through the story’s illustrations.
Thoughts & Assessment
We’ve previously discussed over-stimulation and distraction within multimedia projects, and so it can be refreshing to see not every bell and whistle be implemented in order to share a statistic heavy piece. As Felix Salmon states in Against beautiful journalism: “It’s time for websites to put a lot more effort into de-emphasizing less important stories, reserving the grand presentation formats only for the pieces which deserve it”. I think this idea is especially plausible for this article, as it’s an important topic but not anything to be considered trailblazing. However, had the author want to harness more multimedia technologies into this story, I have a few suggestions on different ways that this piece could have been crafted differently:
- Interactive Map: The journalist could have chosen to cover this story through an interactive map, featuring the bus routes in which those people that work in the tech industry commute upon and then display a comparison overlay feature poverty that surrounds these areas.
- Timeline: The journalist could have created a visual timeline of how San Francisco’s class war has developed within in the past 10 years, featuring interactive bullet points with soundbites of the experiences of those living in the area. It could also include social media embeds of citizens that have been vocal on social media about the class divide.
- Photo Essay: The journalist could have created a simple photo essay following a tech worker’s commute vs a poverty stricken would be a striking visual comparison that would successfully tell the story of the San Francisco Class War. This story would be less data focused, but it could include the statistics within the captions of the photos.
These are only a few concepts that could have been developed into a full-fledged interactive multimedia story. I do not think that the way the information was presented in the illustration negatively impacted the purpose of story, but I do think adding a few more multimedia elements would have made for a more interesting piece. Although San Francisco’s Class War, By the Numbers is not a traditional multimedia project, the illustrations still make for a compelling and eye opening story into the economic issues of San Francisco.