Snow Fall: Archival Information Package

Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek, a multimedia story by The New York Times, made a significant impact on a variety of stakeholders when it was released in December 2012. It was a prime example of long-form journalism told through an immersive multimedia experience. The story was a first of its kind and set a precedent for what online journalism could and should

For its innovation alone, Snow Fall merits preservation. However, it also serves as an example of the issues facing the journalism community today to archive the work they produce on a daily basis. A newspaper is no longer only generating physical materials like photographs and papers anymore, but videos, motion graphics, visualizations and websites. In the case of Snow Fall, there is also a difference between what multimedia items are available for viewing and how they are rendered depending on the device a user may have.

In an attempt to capture the various aspects of Snow Fall, as well as the impact it made on various communities, the archival information package (AIP) contains a variety of files. The AIP contains five folders and a Readme PDF file, which explains the contents of each folder. The folders are organized and named according to the subject and/or the type of file they contain.


The first folder, labeled “Comments,” contains two PDF files of every comment and reply left on the Snow Fall website from the day it was released, December 20, 2012, until eight days later when the comments were closed. There are a total of 1155 comments, arranged chronologically by date from newest to oldest. There is also an edited version of the comments, in which The New York Times selected specific comments to reply to. These are a smaller subsection of the overall comments, which John Branch, the author of the story, and Elyse Saugstad, one of the skiers, responded to. There is also a comment that was left by one of the skier’s wives included in this group.

Maintaining the comments was important in order to preserve the variety of reactions from the readers. However, they also demonstrate the impact the story made around the world by indicating where the reader was located. The handpicked selections that John Branch and Elyse Saugstad responded to serve to provide a bit more context to the story, and the separate file containing these replies allow for quicker access. Turning the website comments into PDFs maintains their format and provides a way for future searching.


Outside resources that documented how the website was created and the media coverage surrounding the release of Snow Fall became extremely important to preserve as a graphic designer working on the project indicated that there was no “Snowfall maker document.” Anything that might provide a bit of contextual information to the story itself gives an overview of where online journalism stood at this point in time, as well as the technology used in building it. The information in this folder supplies more of a historical view.

The files in this folder consist of two MP4 videos that show the layering of data used to create the avalanche simulation. There is also a PDF file containing links to URLs on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The URLs point to the story itself, media coverage, interviews with New York Times staff members involved with creating Snow Fall, and even a blog post that defines the code behind the website. The last document included in the folder is a PDF file of The New York Times Innovation Report from May 24, 2014, which was an in-house report looking at the state of online journalism and audience engagement at the newspaper.


Since newspapers have a much more established process for archiving digital photographs, this aspect to the online story became less important. However, the process for preserving videos and motion graphics is less clear, so saving at least the final products appearing in Snow Fall was critical.

There is one standalone MP4 file in this folder and three folders containing videos of the graphics, interviews, and trip footage. The standalone file called “AvalancheAtTunnelCreek_Documentary” is an almost 11-minute long film that had been included at the very end of the story. A still image from the documentary still appears at the end of the story, but the video file itself is no longer there. The video was located and exported from YouTube.

The graphics folder contains videos of the motion graphics found in the story, the interviews folder contains footage shot by New York Times staff of the skiers and their family members, and the trip footage folder contains video shot by two of the skiers while on the trip. These are all MP4 videos saved from the website. Obviously, maintaining the unedited footage from the in-house staff is important, but only access to final edited versions is available for this project.

Web Recording and iPhone4_Screenshots

The multimedia elements and the overall design of the Snow Fall website was a significant aspect to the story. The programmers and designers made clear that the design for modern browsers on a desktop or laptop computer was the starting point and it was then altered to improve the experience on various mobile devices. Therefore, demonstrating how the full website appeared on a laptop compared to say, an iPhone and iPad, was valuable to preserve.

QuickTime provides a way to screen record your Mac, as well as the screen of your iPhone and iPad back to the Mac. Using this software allows someone to view how the website would render on any of these devices. Using QuickTime, I recorded how the website appeared on my MacBook, by creating individual videos from each chapter of the story. This captured all of the multimedia and how each item was integrated into the story. The iPad videos were captured in the same way by dividing out each chapter. However, it is evident that there are no photo slide shows and the motion graphics, which automatically play on the full website, need to be manually started through video playback controls. Many of the leading images which begin each chapter are looping videos on the full website, but these become still images on the iPad version. Additionally, there were some technical difficulties with recording the videos from the iPad to the MacBook. There is a slight delay between recording the video from the iPad to the MacBook and it causes the audio to get out of sync with the video. I need to explore this error a bit more or look into alternative software where this would not be a problem.

Creating a screen recording of my iPhone 4 to my MacBook became problematic as well because I can no longer upgrade to more current software. My iPhone is currently running on iOS 6.1.3, which was too old for any of the software applications I looked at. As a workaround I created screenshots of various elements from different chapters of the story. In the iPhone version, the photographs and slide shows integrated into the text are not included. Opening images to some of the chapters that are looping videos on a desktop computer, appear as still images on the iPhone. Motion graphics that automatically play on a desktop computer are embedded as videos with playback controls.


Taking the time to evaluate what are the most important aspects to preserve in one specific example of online journalism has been a valuable experience. The work in constructing the AIP for Snow Fall allowed me to consider what was important to the story beyond just the standard text and photographs. The amount and variety of work being produced at news organizations is only growing and much of it has already been lost. It is critical that these organizations take on some initial responsibility to save this multimedia work or it will entirely disappear.


3 Replies to “Snow Fall: Archival Information Package”

  1. Kerry, can I sell you on this digital-preservation-for-newsrooms fellowship idea I have? You’ve taken such a thorough approach here but I think it could easily scale up if a team within a news organization were to do the work: making digital curation / preservation part of production workflows rather than trying to capture material entirely after the fact as an archival repository would need to. Nice workarounds to capture the mobile experience!

    1. Yes! That sounds good to me! Fill me in! I agree, making it part of production workflows is the best idea. Part of the issue that has to be solved is the mindset I think – that daily constant deadline in a newsroom that pushes archiving needs to the background. But, if it’s part of the daily workflow, then there’s no need to see it as an extra. I just recently found out about the Journalism Digital News Archive at the Reynolds Journalism Institute (University of Missouri) – they are doing some work in this area and are holding a conference in LA this October that looks pretty interesting.

      1. For sure. I think JDNA is focusing on preserving the published news and everything required to support that, which helpfully leaves room for talking data management.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *