I make no apologies for my admiration of Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, a detailed interactive, multimedia documentary put together by The New York Times; others agree and it has won a Webby award and a Pulitzer prize.
Every student who aspires to work as a story-teller in an increasingly technical and digital industry should look at Snow Fall and learn from the way in which so many different forms of content have been brought together to create a cohesive and compelling narrative.
The complexity of the feature has been underlined by the Grey Lady herself, as they have boasted about how Snow Fall took hundreds of hours of work involving journalists, editors and coders to produce its seamless presentation.
As usual though, this hubris about how difficult it was to produce Snow Fall is, however, damaging to journalism – and seemed to be designed to create new barriers to entry for people wanting to produce digital stories, in the same way as access to a printing press stopped most people producing their own newspapers in the past.
The NYT‘s message was implicit: “If you want to produce a blog, fine, you can use the simple tools available, but if you want to be on the same level as us, you’re going to have to invest heavily in coding to produce something like Snow Fall.”
As ever in digital media though, nothing is impossible, as a small outfit called Scroll Kit showed, they already had a web design toolkit which allowed them to replicate Snow Fall “in an hour”, and they released a video showing how they did so.
“The NYT spent hundreads of hours hand-coding ‘Snow Fall.’ We made a replica in an hour.” – Cody Brown, Scroll Kit
The response from The New York Times has been nothing if not predictable – they sent in the lawyers, and as Techcrunch reports, Scroll Kit are holding out against them – for now.
This is not, however, a fight over copyright, this is a far more worrying attack on the democratisation of journalism.
Having lost the fight to keep publishing out of the hands of the masses thanks to the internet, now once again the media bullies are circling the wagons to protect their new toys and the loser will be quality journalism.
Instead of trying to re-create the publishing monoliths of the past in digital form, companies like The New York Times should be embracing innovators like Scroll Kit and working with them so that all journalists have access to the tools of digital journalism, not just the self-appointed elite.