We Media Roundup: Storytellers caucus

For those who were unable to join the “Storytellers Caucus” at We Media this year, here’s some of what you missed:

I started with a brief history of how our traditional ideas of story have proved a remarkable tool for making order out of the chaos of the world and our experiences in it. (PDF)

The world is a messy place but a quick look in, say, your local library shows you something else. You’ll see thousands of book neatly ordered in a precise arrangement on shelves. Aardvarks to Z particles sit in a quiet, Dewey-induced harmony.

But there’s a sense that order is unravelling. And more importantly, our ability to share knowledge in a networked world requires some brave new storytelling techniques.

More to the point, the participants brainstormed new metaphors for story. Metaphors help us see possible solutions to a problem even if we can’t fully understand them.

We were lucky to have four creative journalists share their experiments with new story forms.

By the end of the session we had identified some new story forms:

Nesting or Spiral stories

Eduardo Danilo Ruiz shared his latest work on the webzine, Flyp. He has blended rich multimedia within a linear magazine format, which delivers both an engaging and substantive storytelling platform. One caveat that the group brought up was the need for helping visitors keep trak of which layers they had already visited of a particular story.

POV stories

David Dunkley Gyimah (viewmagazine.tv) thinks it’s critical for the post-modern journalist to experiment with new story forms. Otherwise, he or she is at risk of not connecting with the changing attitudes and habits of their audience. David’s tools are an HD handheld video camera, Adobe Premier Final Cut Studio and a plan.

Unlike a typical documentary, which might shoot 30 minutes of video for each minute of final cut, David hardly wastes a frame. He brings a hungry eye that is not caged by standard video journalism parameters. His work has a crusade quality about it – part Frontline, part first-person shooter.

The Gateway

Nathalie Applewhite of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting showed two examples of how the Center is approaching storytelling, specifically focused on new ways of presenting the “news.” Like David, her work focuses on revealing a tangible human experience, which leads to a “gateway” of understanding the broader and complex global issues at work.

LiveHopeLove.com is a synthesis of news, documentary and poetry combined in an interactive narrative that redefines what “news” looks like. As a whole the presentation is non-linear, with distinct linear elements “nested” within. The Water Wars Gateway presents multi-media news elements on a platform that allows direct participation on the site. Contributors respond to and ask questions, and are invited to put their own story “on the map.” This balance of traditional and user-generated content provides a gateway to, and from, under-reported global issues, allowing viewers to make connections between the local and the global in a unique way.

Story as API

In a very different approach, Zach Brand of NPR showed what happens if your think of your stories as things that can be assembled, sorted or conjured on command.

His work on NPR’s API initiative is giving technologists the tools to use NPR’s content in unexpected ways. Thinking of stories as something that can be accessed and analyzed like financial data or the weather can be both liberating and terrifying. The API has already encourage many intriguing projects like All Tweets Considered.

Here are some examples that were shown:

In the end, we learned a few things:

First, an hour-and-a-half is not nearly long enough to talk about this.

Second, the explosion of data and perspectives is driving a lot of experimentation in new narrative forms. Technologists continue to work tirelessly on their dream of a “semantic web.”

Is it time to desire the same for story?

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