What could possibly be common between a detailed account of America’s historic role in Middle East peace and a story about urban acrobats leaping across buildings in London and Beirut? Perhaps, the way in which you choose to tell them.
Designed to look and read like a magazine, complete with the swishing sound that accompanies each turn of a fascinating page, the innovative young site Flyp media, which is being hailed as a “future media lab,” is attempting to straddle the boundaries between the old and the new, between print and celluloid, and between Web creation and journalism.
Videos, podcasts and interactive images are embedded on pages that could well be bound and dropped into your mailbox. It is as much the art of story telling as the story itself. “Flyp the magazine is really a proof-of-concept experiment in terms of multimedia story telling. It is not a product that we’re aimed at as much as the message and the form,” says Editor in Chief Jim Gaines.
Covering topics as wide-ranging as science, business, politics, the economy, and every day life, Flyp’s connecting thread is this very commitment to mixed-media reporting. The well-crafted semblance to print (what Gaines calls an “architectural vestige that is comforting in this transition period”) with its margins, page numbers and folio lines might seem excessive until you factor in the number of people that stay away from the Amazon Kindle because it doesn’t have the look and feel of paper.
What happens at Flyp is true convergence of media. “We start with everybody in the room – the videographers, the animators, the designers, the audio person, the editor, and the reporter and try to figure out what is the best combination of media to tell that particular story,” says Gaines. “The story is created in all media at once.”
Reason why a piece detailing the Afghan conflict doesn’t rely merely on text to illustrate Pakistan’s vital role in the forgotten war; the accompanying videos convey opinions from public officials and experts, and vivid pictures and infographics reinforce the facts. It is this same propensity to interactive technology that prompts Bernie Madoff to wink from the cover page of an in-depth article elucidating on his elaborate Ponzi scheme.
Could excessive use of multimedia, however, take away from the significance of the message it tries to deliver? Not when you can keep the medium and the message sufficiently discrete, says Gaines. “What’s good about multimedia is that we can allow people to do either one – we can run the material in layers as we did with the Madoff story.” Articles are available in text-only formats or as audio podcasts for as much the reader’s convenience as for Google’s ability to track them. Flyp may be slightly ahead of its time as search engines still have trouble keeping up with flash animation and rich media technology.
The upside of this same technology, of course, is reader interactivity. Interactivity at Flyp is more than a comments thread and a survey poll. Clickable tables, charts and graphics allow active interplay with the user, and quizzes and games supplement stories to keep the reader absorbed. Complex topics such as bioterrorism and astronomy are creatively explained through the use of schematics and animation. Little wonder then that the Flyp team insists on calling its creations “experiences,” as opposed to mere stories.
Few things do more justice to new media technology than personal narratives and citizen accounts, and Flyp taps into these formats well. Iraqi students talk about their experiences at US universities and laid-off Americans offer innovative ideas to network and market oneself in today’s economy, as you “leaf through pages” of the accompanying articles.
“Telling stories through the lens of a fellow human being’s life is always the best way to get something across,” says Gaines, who spent many years telling human-interest stories in traditional journalism, as former editor of Time, Life and People magazines. “When you can see someone talking about their pain or their experience or their joy or their sorrow, it makes video and audio so compelling as a method of storytelling.”
Gaines believes that magazines with healthy audiences and good advertising franchises need only to make a revolutionary transition in the method of telling a story. Many traditional organizations are not thinking creatively enough to get themselves out of trouble. “When you’re in the middle of a car accident and you see the crash coming, you can’t think of anything else, and I think there’s a metaphor there for where print finds itself at the moment,” he says.
Talking of the crisis, what about new media monetization? Despite partnerships with Fortune.com and Warner Music, Flyp Media hasn’t yet tried to monetize content, like hundreds of innovative new startups out there.
Gaines’ answer to that is not very different from his solution to creative news delivery: multimedia technology. It is in the best interest of advertisers to create rich media advertisements that audiences really want to engage with, he says. This would have another useful consequence: creating a new demand equation because there is only so much rich media that the traffic can bear. This would create less ad space, and hence, more revenue for target sites.
It is certainly tempting to embrace this as the new business model for journalism. But do time-starved readers who refuse to scroll through unforgiving columns of long text, and often satisfy themselves with summaries from their RSS feeds, be willing to watch a 3-minute commercial in addition to the video clip that was an integral part of the news story?
Just how limitless is this thirst for new media consumption? That is what remains to be answered, and Flyp Media comes as close to posing the question as anyone else.