Blog Post

Making News with digital stories.


I am a Portuguese journalist and thought I'd post here the extended version of a post I just submitted under the Forum on Digital Storytelling taking place this week under the Hastac Scholars Forum.

Making News with digital stories.

Two Portuguese observers of Digital Storytelling movement, a TV journalist (myself) and a Digital Media Scholar (Ana Boa-Ventura) tried – a year ago - to unveil the trends in this new landscape, comparing what is happening in our country with the practices in the USA and Great Britain, two countries, known for their leading roles in digital storytelling movement.

When taken at face value, “digital storytelling” simply means using computer-based tools to tell stories, but we understand the expression goes well beyond this. It also designates a movement born in California in the 1970s from Americana Road witch has evolved into what is today the Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) at Berkeley, and similar organizations that have spread around the world with a similar agenda - one of empowering individuals and communities by giving them the tools and skills to tell their own stories. They promote a media literacy agenda, providing skills that, once appropriated, promote the development of a critical eye regarding the stories with which, as consumers of mainstream media, we are “hit” on a daily basis.

The study is not exhaustive but based, partially, on a convenience sample. The authors have constructed six narratives about six journalists leading the way in his/her own organization in the area of digital storytelling and/or multimedia division. They are all important voices in digital storytelling or in their work in the area of citizen journalism in their respective countries. Half of them are also internationally recognized and their work is referenced in academic journals.

The interviewees’ work (or, in one case, have until recently worked) for major media outlets in three countries: the US – The NYTimes and the Star Telegram - the UK – The Scotsman and BBC - and Portugal – Expresso and Público. In the case of the US and the UK one of the organizations has a national coverage and the other a regional one. Both regional newspapers serve a large geographic area: Dallas/Fort Worth area in the case of The Star Telegram and Scotland in the case of the Scotsman. In Portugal, both media outlets are national.

I posted a blog entry on this here, which includes the conclusions of our study, for those of you interested!

Alan Greenwood, The Scotsman (GB)For Alan Greenwood consumers today expect to have a two-way relationship with media outlets. Greenwood sees the growth in citizen journalism as a result of a change in consumer perceptions. Readers, listeners and viewers expect to be more than that and engage in a 2 way communication process. At the source of this change is the development of digital media, principally text-based websites via chat rooms, forums and newspaper websites such as The development of handheld multimedia devices, particularly mobile phones and video cameras, allowed digital to develop in new ways. Youtube, for instance, is essentially a chat room with video, rather than text, as the means of communication. The management of Scotsman Publications is overwhelmingly positive about and the opportunities digital development offers.

 Initially regarded as a threat to the title’s future, they are now regarded as a key part of any long-term growth.

The Scotsman has been broadly receptive to reader and visitor input. The management’s position is that the digital should continue to grow without impeding newspaper revenue, as print still constitutes the bulk of revenues to the company. On the other hand, the continuing integration of digital storytelling/citizen journalism is a way to target new audiences. The multimedia section works across all departments but mostly with the news, sport and business sections, as they are, statistically, the sections that attract the most audience interest. The newspaper has a dedicated team of online journalists but staff from all areas is expected to contribute to the website.

Daniel Meadows, former BBC Capture Wales project (GB) Meadows identified the films of Dana Atchley on as his source of inspiration for BBC Capture Wales project. He clearly identifies his 2000 research trip to California, during which he became familiar with the Center for Digital Storytelling methodology, as a turning point in his approach to digital storytelling. Although he had been teaching it at Cardiff University, his model was “clumsy” (in Meadows’ words). He was drawn to the workshop model for telling stories with still photographs and voice-over that was being pioneered at the CDS at Berkeley.

Soon after that research trip Prof. Ian Hargreaves (Cardiff University), a former head of news at the BBC introduced Meadows to a team at BBC Wales that was interested in experimenting with the field know today as "user generated content" by getting “closer to its audience" though a community storytelling project.. That project was Capture Wales and lasted from 2001 to 2008. Meadows stresses that the project preceded Youtube by several years. The unprecedented longevity of the project would not have been possible had not been a very strong support by BBC Wales.

The audience/participants in the workshops had great freedom in shaping the stories anyway they wanted to. As the project progressed they realized that these stories, engendered public approval, and not only of the participants directly involved in the workshops but also from friends and families.  To this extent, the project was good PR for the newspaper. Meadows worked with the New Media department of BBC as digital stories were published online. They could were also broadcast on television and the 'audio stories' would also go out on radio.

The BBC has since Capture Wales and a few more projects involving Meadows, stopped any work in Digital Storytelling any more.  Meadows’ work continues at the Cardiff University with full-time students at Cardiff University and his personal may be seen at:

Andrew DeVigal The New York Times (EUA) Andrew DeVigal assigns the label of "citizen journalists" to some individuals that surfaced as interesting and naturally became a voice for local communities. As to the response that the Multimedia Division, which DeVigal Andrew heads, meets next to other journalists internally, it is extremely positive. NYT journalists are broadly very interested in a new form of storytelling that enables new ways of delivering journalism, and they have accepted it.

DeVigal believes that the New York Times hardly sees newspapers as defining the rules of the game as far as integrating the input from the audience in the form of digital stories. Rather, the NYT sees itself as part of a conversation that is already happening and that citizen journalism is also part of that conversation. DeVigal believes that rather than the rules of the game, what the NYT offers is a unique perspective through its expertise on subject matters.

DeVigal’s Multimedia Division works more closely with the news desk - namely metro, national and foreign. Out of 1100 journalists in the newsroom, 80 are dedicated to digital storytelling, while a handful of NYT reporters have worked with the idea of working with citizen journalists or crowd sourcing. The site DeVigal runs -interactive - well demonstrates that DST know no language barriers. He does identify Spain and Argentina as two of the countries with some of the fabulous DST work.

Jen Friedberg – Star Telegram (EUA) The Star Telegram is a Pulitzer Prize-winning regional newspaper serving the Dallas/Fort Worth areas. Its online component is the nation's oldest continuously operating online newspaper. The newspaper's print and online editions together reach more than 1.1 million adults in the DFW area each week.

Friedberg notes that over the past couple of years her multimedia work has changed to more mimic that of the traditional short documentary.  Her colleagues accept her work and often tell her that it says more than what print can say.  As an example Friedberg mentions a short documentary she has recently completely about the local Fort Worth ballet group where she tells the story for the dancers’ point of view. 

For Friedberg this way of telling the story, in her case inspired mostly on the language of cinema, goes beyond the “just the facts” that news in the print form take. By putting a human face on the issue the newspaper was able to tell a more complete version of the story. In the past few months, Friedberg sees more and more editors and reporters making efforts to working with the multimedia department.                                                                                                                              

As far as the openness of the newspaper to the new type of work, the Star Telegram and to what extent it lets the readers define the “rules of the game”, the newspaper recognizes sees a place for both traditional and citizen journalism.  There is a strategy of not separating online and print staff. Everyone is supposed to contribute in some way to the online side of the newspaper. Recently the newspaper launched several websites that will rely heavily on citizen journalism.  The management sees it as a way to reach a wider audience. They also predict that future successful financial models will need to incorporate citizen journalism and digital storytelling. 

Miguel Martins – Expresso (Portugal) It was in May 2006, through an internal restructure, that the Portuguese weekly reference newspaper Expresso, decided to give a priority status to its multimedia section. The task of renewing a site which at the time had very little dynamism was given to the journalist Miguel Martins. His title is Multimedia editor.

For M. Martins, the newsroom of Expresso has attained a total convergence between the multimedia section and the other editorial departments, all contributing to the website. The decisive factors to overcome the journalists’ initial unfamiliarity to the new environment were the unconditional and daily support of the board of directors, and also a receptive policy towards new technologies. M. Martins noted that even the most resistant finally surrendered to their advantages. The greater proximity of the public and its instant feed back was another factor of growing acceptance of the on-line environment.

As to the question of what content to select, M. Martins felt strongly that it would not make any sense to weed out material based on topics: technical quality, moral decency and the newspaper’s legal responsibility are the only editorial criteria. Faits divers and simple ideas have been requested from citizens in general, who contribute by sending photos of events that made the news, and by comments on the articles published. The opportunity for participation is well received by the public, who seems to be increasingly observant and collaborative.

Professional, technical and research work are the responsibility of the sixteen journalists that compose the multimedia section, where training is constantly required, as well as permanent attention to the main reference websites over the world, namely in the U.S.

Alexandre Martins – Público The web site of this daily newspaper of reference in Portugal is the online newspaper of general information with the most visits in the country. In 2008, the online department of the daily Público started a specific section for multimedia contents. Alexandre Martins became responsible for the Multimedia section of the online component.

His fellow journalists involved in the print component of Público recognize the value of the online environment and its actual importance, but they often ignore the process of content production involving multimedia. For A. Martins, they do not recognize the need to constantly feed the site with fresh material as a priority. The trend was still to make the news for the daily printed issue. In fact, many fear to lose exclusiveness of the printed material when publishing it to the site.

Another issue that made many journalists uneasy and feeling that their work is being questioned is the increased openness to the readers’ feedback. Some, though, are attracted to this new feature and try to benefit from its strength and speed. In A. Martins’ opinion, the director clearly defends that the website must follow the unquestionable trend that is digital storytelling. The management sees this new section as having a key role in increasing the citizens’ role and contribution to the information the newspaper sends out, in a way that is constructive rather than merely cosmetic.

Budgetary restrictions have not allowed to increase the area dedicated to content sent by the public, for this would mean more human resources to adequately verify the material’s credibility and accuracy. As to new projects, A. Martins noted that there are many ideas and a great will to grow, especially through innovative solutions that would truly “make a difference”. However, and once more, budgetary considerations have delayed their implementation.

Some conclusions We found that, in general, mainstream media outlets are still cautious in incorporating multimedia content produced by the public or this is not really part of their agendas.

 In the case of the NY Times and the Start Telegram, the media outlets that our US interviewees belong to, their creative and directing work in their multimedia teams involve technologies that are beyond standard skills (such as the use of a simple digital camera and basic video editing), namely Flash. The content is created solely by professionals. The Portuguese newspapers – Público and Expresso – present a similar situation.

The exceptions are BBC’s punctual experience with Capture Wales Project and the, witch has two sections that are mostly multimedia content - “your media” and “your story”. The stories and media that get to be published are selected by journalists from the, in a process that we would label of curating.



1 comment

Ines, nice to 'see' you here!:) 

Those interested in interactive digital storyteling, ICIDS is taking place this year in Braga, Portugal. All the big names will be there from Janet Murray (the author of the unforgettable "Hamlet on the Holodeck") to Ulrike Spierling ZGDV Computer Graphics Center, Darmstadt, Germany, who is also one of the organizers.