A Matter Of Life & Death

A Matter of Life & Death is one of 350 stories published by the online multimedia magazine FLYP between 2007 and 2009. At that time, FLYP was an innovative take on the basic magazine idea. Built with Flash, it combined text, video, audio, animation, and interactivity to create “a new kind of storytelling.” FLYP looked like a magazine – the user flipped from one page to the next (hence the name FLYP) and the focus was still on text. But along with the text there was also a variety of different media – animated introductions, embedded video and audio clips, interactive infographics, etc.

A Matter of Life & Death is a typical example of a FLYP story. It covers a topic that wouldn’t be out of place in any regular magazine: end of life health care. Indeed, the text portion reads like it was published in a magazine. But along with the text there are also video and audio clips, text pop ups with extra information, and links to outside sources.

How It Works

A Matter Of Life & Death begins with a short video intro that sets the tone of the story. “Over a million terminally ill Americans will choose hospice care this year. Insurance companies make billions by denying procedures to patients in need. Still, 54 percent of people believe that reform will lead to rationed care,” read a series of statements between video clips.

On the pages that follow, a complete text story is augmented by multimedia extras. There are “vital statistics” icons that the user has to click on to read. There are video interviews with patients, their loved ones, and doctors. There are roll-over text pop ups that give definitions to key medical terms like “Aggressive Treatment, “Advance Directive,” and “Living will.” There are extra “read more” pages with further information such as the differences between palliative and hospice care. There are links to outside resources for still more reading. There are audio clips of a number of experts speaking about the different dimensions of end of life care.

All of this media is organized like a traditional magazine – one page at a time. On every page there are columns of text surrounded by a mix of different media and hyperlinks elsewhere.

What Works, What Doesn’t

Non-fiction articles in magazines often follow certain style conventions. They begin with a more descriptive scene that illustrates a larger theme and draws the reader in. A mix of descriptive and more informative paragraphs follow to fill out the story and provide greater context. Characters are described and direct quotes given. It’s a flexible style that can be easily adapted for any number of subjects.

A Matter of Life & Death follows this format. The text beings with the case of Maria Cerro, who was admitted to hospital with liver failure. It goes on to describe health care reform proposals under consideration in the U.S. Congress and common misconceptions about “death panels.” There are quotes from a doctor and a Jesuit priest. This is all well and good, as far as it goes. The question is, how do you integrate the media?

The one quibble I have with the overall design of FLYP is in the media integration. Because the text stories are written as complete narratives, the multimedia that surrounds the stories often feels more like extras than integral parts of the story. The reader can happily flip from one page to the next and completely ignore the videos, pop ups, audio, and infographics. You could, of course, consider this to be an advantage rather than a flaw – the multimedia doesn’t get in the way if you’re not interested in it. But it also leaves FLYP with one foot firmly planted in the print tradition.

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