“Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” by John Branch

First: I’m playing this song in my wind ensemble, and it’s all about a winter storm. To read this evaluation and the article it concerns correctly, listen to this at the same time.


The article begins with a title screen depicting harsh winds tearing snow from the ground. It’s ominous, sets a frosty tone, and is followed by one skier’s terrifying experience with a deadly avalanche.

Alongside the story, there are interesting visuals that depict the location and the terrain of the disaster. One is a video that snakes you through the mountains from high up which gives you a wonderful sense of what conditions must have been like. Another is a map of the snow storm that covered the mountain in fresh snow preceding the event.

Within the text, there are links to pictures and videos included in the article which relate the text to further graphic information. This helps eliminate the need for captions and more naturally draws the reader’s eye, and connection, from text to related visuals. It’s really a masterpiece of multimodality because it manages to combine the visual, spatial, and lexical modes effectively and reduces confusion.

The article talking about the multimodal decisions made in this article was equally enlightening. They talked about their conscious efforts to make sure visuals were not distracting and furthered the overall narrative. A big part of that was ensuring that spatial relations were large enough to direct a reader’s attention but didn’t take the reader too long to pass.

It can be easy to include massive amounts of data and visuals simply because they exist, but something else the authors of this article talk about is how to select just a few visuals to maximize their effect. It’s all about balancing the number of visuals with the reader’s needs.

My reaction

This article clearly tried to use effective visuals to draw in readers and enhance their understanding of the story – and it worked! That icy title card in the beginning really put me in the mood of the piece, and the 3D topographical map simulations made me feel like I was on the scene. None of the visuals felt distracting or outstanding. Each blended with the text perfectly to increase my understanding.

Why does this matter?

The New York Times isn’t exactly known for being an outrageously multimodal medium. There are only so many things you can do with paper and ink, but their website has taken great strides toward catering to their online community.

This matters because even newspapers are embracing this move toward multimodal texts because people simply expect it.


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