Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The technology of storytelling

I’m really not one to talk about staying with the basics. As this blog shows, I love new tools. I love the gadgets available to us as journalists.

But one piece of this I haven’t lost is the love of reporting and telling a good story. That transcends technology, whether scrawling pictures on a cave wall or putting together a multimedia package.

Marc Cooper makes the point again that, as this business changes at a whirlwind pace, we need to stop and reflect on how to use all the tools at our disposal to tell the best story.

“New multimedia tools, now reproducing themselves exponentially, provide reporters and editors with sometimes awe-inspiring ways to tell our stories. Learning to master these tools and when to choose them, however, can be as important as which tool a surgeon requests for a certain procedure in the compressed atmosphere of an OR.”

We have a tendency to want to stick with our old comfortable forms. As an old newspaper guy, I still like to craft a good narrative text. I know broadcasters who are more comfortable in front of a camera than behind a keyboard.

But as Cooper points out, some stories are better in some formats than in others. We need to ask ourselves: is this piece better in video? Audio? Do we need to let people see and hear the experience themselves? Or is a descriptive story better?

We also need to be prepared to do it all. That’s why I try to record everything. Get the phone interview on mp3. Carry the video camera with me, and use it.

Then at the end of the process, I can choose which are the best pieces to use and how to use them.

That happened recently with a story about sex crimes against children.

A key element was getting a spreadsheet of addresses to show on a map how these crimes span neighborhoods in our community. But the map by itself had little context.

I used my social networks to help find the girl and her mother quoted in the story. I recorded audio, and even shot video on an interview with the prosecutor. I was prepared.

In the end, a text story and the map seemed to be the best way to go.

Still, none of it matters if we haven’t done solid reporting along the way.

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