National Geographic photographer Neil Shea uses Instagram to tell powerful short-form stories.

National Geographic photographer Neil Shea uses Instagram to tell powerful short-form stories.

We all know that journalism — and narrative journalism in particular — is in a profound moment of transition. But the million-dollar question is: How do we take advantage of this moment?

It’s tricky, to say the least. New technologies such as virtual reality and social media sites such as Instagram and Twitter offer opportunities to engage with audiences. But wow, they also present challenges.

Earlier this year, a group of journalists gathered at the 2016 Seoul Digital Forum, an international conference in the South Korean capital examining trends in digital media, to talk about the new narrative landscape.

The Nieman Foundation’s deputy curator, James Geary, was among the speakers at the panel discussion, called “The Evolution of Storytelling.” He was joined by Yuliya Parshina-Kottas, graphics and multimedia editor for The New York Times; Neil Shea, a contributing writer for National Geographic magazine (See his cool story on how to tell powerful narratives on Instagram here); Andrew Metz, managing editor of “Frontline” on PBS; and Kang Hyung Cheol, professor of media at Sookmyung Women’s University.

Journalism outlets must figure out their relationship to these new digital forms or face being left behind in the new media landscape.

The conclusion of the forum’s “White Paper” is quite thoughtful, so I thought I’d include it in its entirety here:

Every time a new technological innovation changes media, it arrives with fears that it will replace the technologies that came before it. Newspaper journalists feared the rise of radio; radio producers feared that the visual imagery of television would put them out of business; and television and magazines have feared the Internet’s ability to provide free content on demand to highly targeted audiences.

Yet in each of these cases, these different forms of media have ended up coexisting–and even collaborating–with companies disseminating stories through multiple forms of media, and reporters finding different ways to tell stories on radio, television and print outlets. There’s no reason to think that these new forms of digital media won’t follow a similar pattern.

That said, it’s important not to dismiss the challenge that social media, digital video and virtual reality present to traditional media forms. Some traditionalists may see these trends as passing fads, which young people will grow out of, gravitating toward more traditional storytelling when they enter their 20s and 30s.

As the digital generation does begin to age, however, there is no indication that they are changing the way they consume the news. Journalism outlets must figure out their relationship to these new digital forms or face being left behind in the new media landscape.

Smart media outlets are using these platforms not only as a way to expand their reach into new audiences, but also as a way to experiment with new ways of telling stories they find important. The reason that journalists tell stories is to create impact, both on a personal level and to make change in the world.

While the ways of telling stories may have changed, the imperative to tell them has not. Rather than letting these platforms dictate content that is not inherently comfortable for a publication, journalists must figure out the best ways to use these new technologies to help them tell the stories they want to tell.

TIPS FOR NEWS MEDIA USING NEW STORYTELLING PLATFORMS

  • Produce brand-new content that caters specifically to the form of the platform; don’t expect content that works in print or on the Web to work.

  • Take advantage of the audiences native to new platforms, which may be younger and more diverse, and create content suited to their interests.

  • Be creative; harness the interactive nature of platforms such as virtual reality, digital video and social media, and build it into the viewer experience.

  • Expect difficulties with new equipment and technologies, and leave time to address them or work around them.

  • Anticipate new ethical dilemmas, and be transparent with readers about the choices you make.

  • Decide in advance how much editorial oversight you will apply to writing, photos and videos produced for new platforms.

  • Be prepared to experiment; it may take a while before the “right” way to use new platforms emerges.

 

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