By Rose Tantraphol
Jan. 17, 2013
What does it mean to tell a story in our digital age?
This is what it means for The New York Times in its recent project detailing the horrific avalanche in the Cascades, located in Washington (click on the screen capture below and then scroll down the page):
For one journalist, it means working in partnership with Prairie Public Broadcasting, the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR), and Zeega, an interactive storytelling platform, to produce Rough Ride. Rough Ride uses a documentary-style approach — it’s best watched in full screen on your computer — along with first-person video and interactive graphics.
For the online music magazine Pitchfork doing a feature profile of Bat for Lashes, it looks like this (I love the featured playlist and the near flipbook effect you get scrolling down):
I would argue that the technologies used in these examples enhance the purpose of that particular piece. You get a closer look into the lives of people who are strangers in your world. You hear their voices. You watch them move.
Taking ‘show’ to the next level
I attended journalism graduate school before the explosion of YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook, Twitter, Storify, and all the social media channels that give digital storytelling in 2013 so much potential. “Show, don’t tell,” my instructors would always say. They meant, of course, writing compelling scenes by weaving together telling details.
Words still matter — they always will. (And I actually think the single hardest social media platform to tell a good story through is Twitter, with its 140-character limit. That’s why tweeters who can hook you in and entice you to click on the link to read more — like Meegan Holland of MLive.com and Chris Gautz of Crain’s Detroit Business, just to name two local journalists out of many — get so much respect from me.) But words (say, song lyrics) combined with interactive tools have the potential to take storytelling to fascinating depths.
Back in 2010, the MIT Media Lab held an event called Story 3.0 to explore critical questions related to storytelling. Not surprisingly, the rise of these digital tools for storytelling raises some concern among journalists, and projects like the Harvard University-based Nieman Journalism Lab do an excellent job of tracking trends and spurring discussions. I care about how people’s stories are told and preserved — it’s why I went into my first career of journalism — and I think this is a healthy and important discussion to have.
But right now, at the beginning of a new year and lucky enough to work with colleagues who share my enthusiasm for digitizing communications with purpose and integrity, all I can say is that I am genuinely excited for what the innovative storytellers of our time are up to.