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Digital Storytelling Track

Posted by Seth Putnam on September 14, 2008

We are storytellers, plain and simple. But one of the major hurdles facing journalism today is that the advent of the Internet has made everyone else storytellers, too.

With the explosion of user-generated content, everyone has the capacity to be a gatekeeper, and that has left those attempting to make storytelling their living–their art, their craft–wondering how to respond. And responding they are. Friday morning, in the Fred Smith Forum of the Reynolds Journalism Institute, several speakers presented on projects that they have spearheaded to address journalism’s approach to storytelling in the digital age.

Roger Fidler and the “Digital Newsbook Project:”

Fidler spoke about “introducing a new way to deliver, access and read in-depth special reports.” These will come in the form of electronic books and be available for sale and download onto electronic readers like the Amazon Kindle. Unlike the breaking news and developing updates commonly found on the Web, these newsbooks will fill the of longer form enterprise stories and allow the consumer to delve more deeply into an issue that interests or affects him or her.

Predecessors of the newspaper, newsbooks are actually a throwback to the 15th and 16th centuries when those in power would publish and distribute information they considered newsworthy (for instance, reasons for going to war.)

“We’re going way back and taking it forward and making it digital,” Fidler said.

Since 2007, 16 of these “eBooks” have been published and are currently on sale for $4.95 a pop.

Matt Thompson and “Epic 2014: Progress Report:”

In 2004, Thompson and Robin Sloan, formerly of the Poynter Institute, created an eight-minute movie (Epic 2014) that attempted to describe our mdia consumption habits. It focused on three things: cheap and easy distribution, cheap and easy production, and a proliferation of mobile consumption.

Now, four years later, Thompson is attempting to further explore what he considers to be the most important word in journalism: context.

With regard to content produced on the Internet, the focus has mainly been to break news and update developing stories. Consequently, a lot of pertinent content has the potential to get lost in the shuffle (case in point: this blog). With that in mind, Thompson will spend the next nine months as an RJI Fellow creating and encylopedic webiste that hosts a database of related stories so that relevant background information is available and doesn’t only last the three to four minutes users stay on the home page.

Brian Storm, founder of MediaStorm:

Perhaps the most exciting–and well attended–presentation was Storm’s talk on his company, MediaStorm. MediaStorm is a multimedia Internet-based publication that offers in-depth profile stories that employ photo, video and audio tools to shed light on basic human struggles: coping with death, coping with war, maintaining friendships, caring for sick loved ones, navigating new marriage and more.

The paramount idea that Storm tried to get across to his audience was that a committment to storytelling should always trump the medium through which the stories are told.

“It’s not about the delivery mechanism,” Storm said. “It’s about journalism and transmitting the stories. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to tell stories.”

To put it into perspective, Storm speculated on what it must have been like to be the owner of a horse and buggy business when the first automobiles came on the market. Storm said that, instead of batting a cynical eye, the business owner should have been quick to embrace the new development because of a key fact: He isn’t just in the buggy business; he’s in the transportation business.

So it is for journalists. We aren’t in the still camera business, or the radio business, or the newspaper business; we’re in the business of telling stories.

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