Last week, the USC Annenberg School on Communications and the National Arts Journalism Program hosted a National Summit on Arts Journalism at USC, highlighting five public projects that are exploring new trends in journalism. One of the projects, “Departures,” from Los Angeles PBS station KCET, is focused on community storytelling, with students using images and audio to create neighborhood landscapes. A team of professionals works with young videographers as they learn multimedia skills and create a community document.

Director of production of new media at KCET, Juan Devis suggests that multimedia storytelling offers a flexibility unavailable in linear narrative. “I think that new media can afford a different, more participatory way of looking at culture and the intersection of arts and culture with daily life,” he says on a video posted to YouTube describing the effort.

By using multiple tracks embedded in clickable segments on sliding panoramic shots of the city, the project allows viewers to skip to areas of interest and hear narration from local experts, as well as ambient sounds like wind or rain at each site. Giving equal footing to many voices, Devis says, makes it possible for the project, “like a mural, to become a collective narrative.”

The project is compelling but requires a little fiddling—at one stop in the Sepulveda Basin, it took a moment before I realized I had two audio tracks going at the same time, which buried the narration. Though it has some fabulous elements and definitely succeeds as a community documentary, I’m still wondering how this open-ended, multi-voice storytelling will fare with viewers accustomed to more traditional, linear models.

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