The Wall Street Journal’s interactive piece “Syria Shattered,” starts with the voices of Syrians over video of the destroyed city of Homs. “Everyone used to get along,” a man says. Then distinct voices of men, women and children continue, explaining the way things used to be. The voices and video images become faster, more urgent, ending with a haunting quote over a black screen. “This is the story of our life, it used to be beautiful,” it reads.
The piece doesn’t mislead readers. “Syria Shattered” is a story of lives, or, at least what they used to be. The piece takes readers through an interactive history of the country’s demise in three multimedia-rich sections. What makes this story unique, is the way in which it tells Syria’s story. The entire article is told through the perspectives of Syrians on all sides of the conflict and is divided into sections by each family or individual story. To me, this story uses multimedia and web design in an incredibly powerful and purposeful way. Here, the text of the stories are infinitely enhanced by the multimedia elements of the story. When we read about a person for the first time, scrolling down reveals photos and videos of that person. When the story talks about the battle for Homs, the article shows before and after pictures of the city’s main market square.
This piece is simple in its execution. Each section of the story introduces a character and a picture of them. Then, video of that character is activated by scrolling down. The videos all play by themselves, and simple circles to the side of the videos indicate how many videos are left. A simple, black bar advances at the top of the browser as you advance through the article. Yet, the piece remains powerful because of its strong, well-timed use of visuals. Throughout the story, the video and photos of the city and what people remain there speaks for itself. In one photo, a 5-year-old girl is seen holding a gun. Then a video clip jumps to her and her brother talking about seeing a friend of theirs dead in the street. In one of the most chilling video clips in the piece, the story scrolls through three videos of a man walking through his destroyed street and home.
The site is effective in how much emphasis it places on its visual elements, and how little emphasis it places on design. The Wall Street Journal wanted this story to stick with readers through its simplicity, and I believe it succeeded. The only critique I have of the site is with the full screen visual elements. Sometimes scrolling over video would cause the screen to freeze for a moment. The scrolling effect also made some of the visual elements feel a bit jumpy at times. Overall though, “Syria Shattered” is an example of how strong multimedia elements can be used to make a story more real to readers. The story elements scroll effortlessly on the page to allow the reader to focus on the tragedy of the story before them.