Digital yarns

“Human beings are natural-born story tellers. When memories fail in old age, the stories are the last thing to go” – Daniel Meadows


Stories round the campfire

Stories are part of what binds cultures together. After all, storytelling was one of the first ways of preserving history. Gathered around the camp fire, the young people would learn from their elders about their past through hearing tales that had been handed down from generation to generation.

But memories can fade, and not every story will be passed on. But in this digital age, there is a new way of preserving these stories so that future generations will have access to them and keep the memories alive. Please take a bow then, digital storytelling. These are short multimedia narratives that harness the power of pictures, spoken word, and occasionally video and music, to bring the story to life in the way that words alone simply aren’t able to do.

The beauty of digital storytelling is that they preserve a snapshot of life, or a memory, which may have otherwise been forgotten but through the internet, can be told to millions of people. Aboriginal Cultures and Traditions Storytelling, a Canadian website, does just that, by recording the tales of various storytellers of native Canadian ancestry. Although they are not strictly digital stories in the form that Daniel Meadows has created, they are nevertheless a great insight into the way digital is helping, and not hindering, tradition.

So what does this all mean for journalists? The journalist essentially is, or should be, a storyteller of real life. By reporting events, journalists are providing snapshots of life, preserving information and memories. The only difference now is that people want to tell the stories themselves. And now, thanks to the diffusion of technology, people have access to tools that enable them to do this. After all, as Daniel Meadows has said, the journalist should be the facilitator of stories. They should act as a conduit through which people’s voices are heard. Up until now, journalists have taken on the role of speaking for the masses, but now the masses want to talk for themselves.

So by journalists enabling these digital stories to be put across, as well as making them themselves, this is another way in which journalists can spread news as well as interact with their audience. And contrary to what some techno-sceptics may say, I feel that telling stories through multimedia does not diminish other platforms. Print, for example, will always be around and some stories may simply work better in print than in video and vice versa. It is just about choosing the right way in which to tell the story.

One form of media should not feel that it is in competition with another. Radio didn’t kill the newspaper, and TV didn’t bump off radio. As Ian Hargreaves has said in his book Journalism: Truth of Dare?, “Radio, rather than being squashed by television, has also entered a new and dramatic growth phase. In the pre-digital era of the 1990s, Britain went from under 50 to 250 commercial radio stations. Digital radio will increase that by an unknowable factor.” Different media can coexist and complement eachother. And as long as the story gets told in the best possible way, surely that’s the most important thing.

Photo by Adrianne Lacy at Flickr

  1. Glyn

    Some interesting points here – and I think the one about working out which way to tell the stories is the most crucial.

    But like you I think there is a place for digital narratives in the kit bag – not just to allow others to tell stories, but to help them and even tell some of our own in a kind of online feature format

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© Melanie Hall 2017