More Than Words

A guest post on the 5 storytelling formats of digital journalism by Jericho Knopp—journalist, writer, cat-owner, and amateur musician.

I came to journalism school because I like to write. I’ve long considered myself a writer, so getting a degree where I could write for a living seemed like the perfect step. When I got here, however, I realized I was in for a bit of a rude awakening. Journalism is no longer just writing. It is writing, photography, videography, audio storytelling, and other kinds of multimedia all rolled into one. It’s not enough to be a great writer, you have to be good at everything. And so I worked and slaved and studied, and I finally learned to embrace this wacky, multimedia world. Here are some of the new storytelling formats being tested by multimedia journalists, with examples of some of my favourite stories.

Audio Slideshows

When I first started working with audio slideshows, we were given a 30 minute primer on what audio slideshows were supposed to look like, and how to avoid common mistakes.

Then, we were given our assignment. We were to create one, from scratch, in two weeks.

My partner and I had to learn how to use Audacity to edit our audio, get good soundbites, navigate the expanse of our DSLR, and use Soundslides, yet more software to put it all together. The result was an imperfect meshing together of photos and audio of an intriguing burlesque performer.

This audio slideshow from the BBC is a more professional example that blends the photos and audio together much more seamlessly.

Video Stories

We went through a very similar process with video stories. We had one month to create a four-minute documentary piece we could be proud of. We were put into groups of five and given instruction as we went along.

We stumbled through picking which equipment to use, learning how to use our video camera, shooting up-close interviews, and the countless other things that you need to do to shoot good video. When it came time to edit, we taught ourselves Final Cut Pro as we went along.

The learning curve was steep, but we also came out of the experience knowing a lot more than we did previously.

I am getting better with a video camera with every new subject I shoot, but this interactive video documentary about the Colorado River takes video to a new level.

Infographics

Infographics are becoming wildly popular in all forms of news. It doesn’t seem like I can go a minute of scrolling through my newsfeed without seeing one. Unfortunately, they are not something I currently know how to create.

I wish I could feel comfortable that Infographics are not a part of our curriculum, but I actually worry that not knowing how to create them will be a disadvantage for me as a journalist. Luckily, there are online services such as infogr.am and piktochart available to help me out, should I need it.

Check out this awesome flow-chart infographic from Goodreads that the Huffington Post used on Valentine’s Day.

Photo Essays

One of my professor’s favourite quotes is, “The best camera is the camera you have on you.”

With this in mind, I took my little point-and-shoot down to the beach a few months ago to complete an assignment. I had to tell a complete story about the beach within five to eight photos.

It was more difficult than it sounded.

I took some disjointed photos of different aspects of the beach, and called it “A Day at Kitsilano Beach”. Photography is an essential skill for all journalists, as we are called to not only write the story, but also to take photos and share them across social media.

We can also integrate the photos into our story in a way that truly enhances the meaning, like “Coffee in India” by the Seattle Times.

Interactive Stories

What do you get when you combine all of the above? Stories that are truly compelling, where the different elements all work together to tell a complete story. The video complements the text, which complements anything else that the story has to offer.

My partner and I tried to do something similar in our latest story. We took video interviews and paired them with text to tell a complete story about how an artist turned confessions into art pieces. We were able to take all the skills that we’d acquired and use them together.

The New York Times does a fantastic job of combining all of these elements in long-form interactive pieces such as Snow Fall.

Next Up?

I have no idea where the digital landscape will go, but innovation is occurring now faster than ever before. It’s a constant race to keep up, never mind beating everyone else to the front, and I am as excited as I am nervous. The more the technology grows, the more we can share with each other in new ways.

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More Than Words

On writing: Whatever you have to do to get through

Photo: Mike Baird - http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikebaird/3016985275/
I am writing a novel.

Do you know how many times since I was a teenager I have been ‘writing a novel’?

I have four novels ‘in the works’. All 10,000 words or less. Stephen King writes 2,000 words a day. He could have written all four of my novel-starts in two weeks. Two weeks!

That’s okay, though. I don’t need to be fast. I don’t even need to be good. What I need, for my own personal well-being, is just to finish. Something. Anything.

So here’s my new philosophy on writing. One hundred words a day. Just 100 words. I can usually get 100 words down in a half hour or less in the morning after feeding our five month old breakfast.

If you didn’t pick up on it, I’m a slow writer.

Actually, I’m a perfectionist. Which is both a horrible curse and a wonderful blessing. A perfectionist will always be their own worst enemy, but their work, if it’s ever allowed to see the light of day, will be amazing.

Often I go over a hundred words in my writing session, which is like a free bonus. Some days I miss entirely, but I don’t focus on those days. As long as I’m making some kind of progress every week, I feel like I’m on the right track and doing good.

This is good for me. I find I do better working on lots of things in small chunks than focusing all my energy on one big thing.

So how do you keep making progress even when it seems like you’ll never finish? (And how many words a day can you crank out? Don’t be shy.)

Photo: ‘2 of 3 Coast Guard 47′ Motor Lifeboat performs storm exercises in wild surf at Morro Bay’ by Mike Baird

On writing: Whatever you have to do to get through

I have a concern…

I have a concern about how technology, hip and cool culture, and new trendy ways to process information and ideas distract us from the purity of the stories themselves. Sometimes I think it’s a rabbit hole, a warren of sorts, a web in the negative sense, at the least a distraction from producing something really valuable in itself – namely, the meat of the story. I notice a huge difference, say, when I get on a slow train to nowhere and only have a notebook and pen.

Mark Hill

I have a concern…

Learning an ancient storytelling art

There is a new tower in town. In Sumida Tokyo stands the world’s tallest broadcasting tower. The Tokyo Skytree is 634m/2,080 ft high. It is the second tallest structure in the world behind the Burj Khalifa (829.84m/2,723 ft) in Dubai.
The Tokyo Skytree ticks all the boxes as far as world wonders go. It’s ginormous, majestic, and expansive. You can feed off its glory and basque in its shadow. I can see it towering above Sumida Tokyo from my apartment if I stand all the way to the left in the sunroom.

But I am much more interested in what is going on in the shadows nearby the tower. This is shitamachi or ‘low city’ – downtown if you will. Shitamachi implies more than a literal geography. It means the place is more down to earth, gritty, friendly. It usually has cheaper rent, soul food and other sundries. Community is close and highly valued. In Sumida many people still leave their doors unlocked. It is also the home and workplace of many artists because of the cheap rent.

One group of artists is collaborating on a project involving storytelling. Kamishibai is an old Buddhist storytelling art used in temples by monks using paper scrolls. It was revived in the 1920s through the 1950s as a way to earn a meager living riding bicycles from place to place with a small box stage attached to the back. Now there are only a few kamishibai artists left; one is in Sumida.

A friend of mine, Takeyo Kimura (TakeyoKimura.net/), is a community artist who often presents art projects involving the stories of average people in different neighborhoods and areas throughout Japan. He uses creative ways of presenting these stories such as sound installation, or writing small books with a map so participants can actually visit the places where these stories happened. He is now collaborating with a kamishibai artist combining kamishibai with the stories of the residents from the shitamachi area of Sumida.

I am participating in his five week workshop with a team or artists creating our own kamishibai stories from the stories of the local residents. An old woman who runs an old cleaners stops by to listen to our stories and sits on her own chair in front of the small workshop space. A public TV crew stops by to interview us and do a story on the workshop. Random friends stop by to drop off food or show support. Tour groups on their way to the Skytree look on with interest.

My Japanese is poor so I struggle to communicate my ideas about how the narrative of the short story should go. Ours involves a man’s story of how the houses in the neighborhood are so close the kids would just jump through second story windows to visit friends. We imagine a whole world where kids do not even need shoes because there are amazing places to visit from the second floor like foreign countries, sumo stables, and even the ocean.

While we were spinning these tales I realized we were continuing the fabric of community through storytelling. It is a multi-layer fabric. We needed older faces and a place where things happened, new faces and space where things are still happening. We needed the effort of people to actually do something and not just talk about it in a virtual community. This is wonderful to me. A place where meaningful community is happening despite the meaningless busyness that goes on around us and in us. This is a world wonder.

Top photo: ‘Landscape with Tokyo Sky Tree’ by DaraKero_F. Other photos by Mark Hill.

Learning an ancient storytelling art

A good story leaves a mark


Life in a farming town knows its rhythms. Growing up surrounded by dairy farms and wheat fields, I came to recognize the signs of seasons changing, advancing like clockwork, sure as the sunrise, never varying from their course. Rural life fell safely within the boundaries of the seasons, measured by the cadence of green tractors sowing perfect lines in patchwork pastures. Plant, water, harvest. Plant, water, harvest. From a young age, I could see my future stretched out before me like a dirt road in the prairies, no twisting or turning, just on, on, on, rambling forward into the horizon.

Something must have been building in me, something questioning the typical procession of the only life I knew. Otherwise, when I found the story, would I have given it a second thought? Somewhere beneath everything I knew was the faintest whisper, speaking to me of that which I didn’t know – that there was a boundless world out beyond the pasture fences, and that I was meant to go find it.

I first found his story tucked neatly in the faded pages of an old National Geographic magazine. ‘World-roaming Teen-ager Sails On,’ the cover beckoned. I stopped what I was doing, split open the musty pages, and dove in.

I’ll never forget how I inhaled his story, not even putting that yellow book down until I had savoured every word and studied every photograph. I discovered he’d written a book, ‘Dove,’ and immediately searched it out. When it finally arrived, I was absolutely spellbound by the tales of this new friend I’d found.

His name was Robin Lee Graham, and his story slammed the door shut on the prospect of living a mundane, predictable life. He was just my age, and in April of 1970 he became the youngest person to sail around the world alone. It was a tale of epic adventure, complete with scenes of disaster, triumph, romance, daring, and paradise found. I hung on every word, lost with him in lands of smiling island faces, my heart pounding as tempest waves suggested impending doom, sympathizing with him during moments of desperate loneliness, and all the while marveling that seas could be full of anything other than golden stalks of wheat.

The words of Graham’s journey became fuel for my own dreams; it was a story powerful enough to change the direction of my life. It simply wasn’t enough to admire the story. I wasn’t even satisfied by immersing myself in every word – it sparked a hunger for something bigger than words on dog-eared pages could satiate. Robin Lee Graham’s story had the power to inspire me to live my own daring, unforgettable adventure. He taught me that I, too, could have a story worth telling.

Photo: National Geographic Back Issues

A good story leaves a mark