Why Chaos Can Make a Storytelling Project Work

Buckingham Palace guards marching

Sometimes chaos can be the best thing for a big project.

My classmates and I discovered this today as we finished our first day on location at Barrow Hill Junior School in London. We gathered content today for a digital prospectus we will build the school as part of Elon University’s interactive media master’s program project for public good.

We arrived and received a warm welcome by the head teacher and staff at the school. We took a tour, brainstormed and attacked several different mini-projects.

As the day went on, some chaos was unavoidable. We all had landed in a new place (the school) today and an entirely different country less than four days ago. We all had to get acquainted with everything.

We did.

And the first day’s chaos – the rushing around, the meeting new people, the action of finally shooting something on video after mostly planning and brainstorming – felt wonderful.

We all have a hundreds of ideas flowing, and we can’t wait to see where the project takes us tomorrow.

Like I said, sometimes, chaos in a project can be an amazing thing. Welcome it, because it can fuel you and your colleagues like nothing else.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Going with the Flow on a Storytelling Project

Tower of London tunnel

Every project has its challenges.

The winter term project I’m working on with my classmates at Elon University in London is no different. We knew that it would throw challenges our way, but the project hasn’t even begun and we’ve faced a major one.

It snowed in London a few days before we arrived and the school where we plan to shoot shut down for the week. It snowed again today, so we’re hoping the same thing doesn’t happen Monday.

To combat the uncertainty we’ve brainstormed ideas for possible new story ideas and solutions if the snow falls and we have to change plans. And we will probably have to ramp that up because it’s supposed to snow again tomorrow. We’ve also already shot one standalone project for the piece though, so starting the process felt good.

Ultimately, it’s about going with the flow.

You can do the same thing, no matter what kind of storytelling project you’re working on.

Go with this strategy:

  • Create a plan and a back-up plan for your project.
  • Go in knowing everything won’t work out.
  • Be ready to adjust at any time.

It’s a simple strategy, but one that can help you accomplish anything.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

The Strategy for a Storytelling Project with Unknowns

My classmates and I at Elon University have been huddled together planning some very exciting projects for public good.

My group heads to London tomorrow. We’ve brainstormed and brainstormed and discovered that many of our decisions about our project will have to wait until we get on the ground.

We will be creating a multimedia Web site for an elementary school in London – a digital prospectus, so to speak. We’d love to have more knowns than unknowns, but I think we’re learning that’s part of the excitement of this project.

It’s very journalistic in nature, even though it will serve as more of a marketing piece for the school in London. And that means reacting to what’s happening (with as much planning as possible) rather than following a specific schedule.

One of my classmates, and the Creative Director of our London project, Conor Britain, spelled out a great strategy for us yesterday.

He said that we will plan to create a good project, but once we get in London, we will discover how to make it great.

I like that approach – for any big storytelling project.

You’ll never know all the details. So plan all that is possible and be ready to be flexible.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Planning a Big Storytelling Project: Have an Eye on the Story

Big Ben

Planning any large, group project can prove daunting.

However, with some creative thinking and teamwork, group members can accomplish a lot of pre-planning before any boots hit the ground. That’s something I’m realizing with one big project I’m working on right now.

The Adventure

I’ll be creating a digital prospectus for an elementary school in London with 10 classmates of mine. The project is part of the curriculum in my Interactive Media Master’s program at Elon University.

My 34 classmates and I will embark on four separate projects for public good around the world. We leave for London, Costa Rica and Panama in the coming days.

The Challenge

As my group members and I have planned how to attack our project, we’ve faced a few challenges. One of the biggest has been how to organize our creative teams.

We will develop a multimedia website for our client that tells its story. This will include photos, videos, text and more. To effectively gather the content we need, using all the technology available to us, we’ve split ourselves into three creative teams. Each team has three to four people.

The Solution

How could we divide our team’s talents and divvy up responsibilities without locking anyone into a role for good?

We took each person’s talents into account, placing a strong videographer, photographer and interviewer in each group. Then we developed a varied roles within each group for the members to keep in mind as they were out collecting content.

Obviously, we will have one person responsible for shooting video and one person responsible for shooting photos. The third role is the storyteller. When this person isn’t interviewing folks, he or she will be required to have an eye for what the videographer and photographer might be missing.

Are they missing any shots or angles? Who are the most engaging subjects or characters? They are a producer, more or less.

It’s not terribly innovative, but these roles will be interchangeable among group members, giving people the opportunity to try different tasks. And what could happen if we fail to have someone keeping their eye on the story?

I shudder just thinking about it.

To follow my journey in London, and the creative project my classmates and I produce, be sure to check this blog regularly. You can explore all the posts about London 2010 here. Also, please follow me on Twitter.

Image by et420.

Create a Digital Story – A Flash Tutorial

How to Create a Digital Story Screenshot

Digital stories remain a mostly untapped resource in the classroom for students and teachers.

They allow students the opportunity to create something meaningful that they’re invested in, sometimes more so than just a normal report or research paper. Through the stories they tell, students can employ critical thinking, conduct original research and contribute to a larger academic conversation.

Despite all the positives digital stories bring to the classroom, educators face many challenges when using them. One of the chief concerns is getting both students and teachers acquainted with the process of creating a digital story.

It’s why I designed a learning tool to help – How to Create a Digital Story.

The interactive tutorial runs through a 10-step story creation process. A blog post at Tech SoupDigital Storytelling: A Tutorial in 10 Easy Steps – along with my own original research on digital stories inspired the idea.

The text comes largely from Tech Soup’s post with images, design elements and a bit of interactivity added by me. The Tech Soup post was published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License so I did the same to what I created.

I hope teachers and students can use the tool to explore the power and potential of digital stories.

If you’d like to read the research paper, simply click the “paper” icon in the presentation. It discusses the current state and future of digital storytelling in more detail.

I’d like to thank all of the researchers who are cited in the bibliography for their research and insights. That goes double for the professionals who shared their time and spoke to me about digital storytelling.

They are:

See full-size version.

What if Newspaper Home Pages were like iGoogle?

Man holding newspaper

This year I almost entered the Knight News Challenge. I developed a first draft for an idea, but just didn’t have to time to fully flesh it out.

I debated on whether I wanted to work on it more for next year, but decided it would be better to let it loose. And perhaps, someone will read it, and want to help grow it and develop it together.

The idea would put the design of newspaper and television Web site home pages into the hands of the readers and viewers – similar to iGoogle. It lets them shape the story the publication tells them in a way.

It has some strengths and weaknesses. Its strength is that it relies on user control. Its weaknesses are that I do not explain well enough its differences from tools like iGoogle. And, at least in the framework of the Knight News Challenge, it fails to provide enough benefit to a certain group of people.

Read the proposal, and contact me if you’re interested in developing it together.

2010 Knight News Challenge Almost-Entry

Project Title: NewsHome

Requested amount from Knight News Challenge: $200,000

Expected amount of time to complete project: 1 year

Total cost of project including all sources of funding: $200,000

Describe your project: This project will put the design of newspaper and television Web site home pages into the hands of the readers and viewers. Using open-source blog software, most likely Movable Type, we will create a platform and community for website users to create their own home page. Users will move around blocks of information, such as articles, photos, multimedia and advertisements, just like widgets on the back end of a blog. They could choose as many or as few widgets of information as they like. Content will most likely come in via RSS feed from different sections of the paper. Users will be able to customize their own Web site experience every day if they’d like.

Other elements of the software will be supported by a micro-community. Users will be able to see other home page designs other users have made, and vote for their favorite. Users will also be able to select from templates created by staff members and other users.

How will your project improve the way news and information are delivered to geographic communities? Newspaper, television station and other media Web sites are known to be cluttered, confusing and overwhelming to visitors and potential visitors. Let the audience solve that problem. This application will allow users a portion of control in how they receive and view the news in their community. News organization staff will also be able to see what users like in a home page/news website design. This could potentially inform future site design and user experience decisions.

How is your idea innovative? This solution to cluttered design harnesses a lot of existing technologies. Chief among these technologies are open-source blogging software and RSS feeds. It’s a mashup that aims to put users in control of how they view the news. The most innovative part of this is users will have some say in the way they get the news. This beginning stage of collaboration among the news organization and its reader, it’s hoped, will promote open the conversation between the two parties, leading to a more successful future partnership – full of worthwhile news and new ideas.

What experience do you or your organization have to successfully develop this project? I have worked as a journalist at a community newspaper in Florida, and am currently pursuing my master’s degree in interactive media at Elon University. I have an understanding of how the news business works, thanks to my professional experience. My graduate studies have honed my skills in interactive design, usability and audience analytics. This combination is well suited for developing this kind of project.

Image by newspaper.

The Most Important Non-Digital Tool for Any Creative

Closeup of a Notebook

It’s easy for us to become immersed in the digital world.

We have to be.

From social bookmarking, social media, blogging, designing via different software and so much more, the majority of tools a professional uses in this realm have a digital aspect. However, what happens if the digital world ended tomorrow?

If all the bytes, jpegs, tweets and so on ceased to exist – where could you still go to get your work done? What would be your number one source for inspiration?

The notebook.

Yep, this handy tool comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You can personalize it however you like too.

Seriously, if you create in any way, shape or form, you should have one with you at all times. And I’ll be honest: I don’t. I have just realized I need to make it a reality.

Some reasons notebooks rule:

  • Their battery never dies.
  • Putting pen to paper feels fantastic.
  • Write, sketch, this thing is multidimensional.
  • Crumpling up paper and throwing away your bad ideas is therapeutic.
  • Ideas never escape you.
  • You start developing a timeline of creativity. Learn how, what and where you’re most creative!
  • If you put something in it every day – you’re productive.

Being a writer, I have heard this advice over and over. I have done it at various points in my life, but lately I’ve realized I need to reacquaint myself with the habit of carrying paper around.

I’m missing out on too many of my own ideas.

I had one at my side all the time when I worked as a reporter and I didn’t realize just how handy it proved to be. Despite the fact digital technologies rule the world these days, ideas serve as the oil that lubricates technology and every other industry.

We need them and you have them. So make sure you jot them down, will you?

Ideas will become the currency of the new economy. Make sure you share the wealth. Carry your notebook.

Image by iprole.

5 Tips on Producing Award-Winning Multimedia Content

Michael Radutzky has presided over some of the biggest stories of our time.

The Senior Producer for “60 Minutes” has worked on stories about Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh, the Duke Rape Case and President Barack Obama just to name a few.

His work has earned him seven national Emmy awards and several other prestigious journalism awards. His full biography can be seen here.

Radutzky, who serves on Elon University’s School of Communications Advisory Board, spoke with my Public Opinion in New Media class today. The class is part of the university’s new Master of Arts program in Interactive Media.

What follows is an abridged version of our 60-minute discussion. Everything is paraphrased, except where quoted. Even though Radutzky does not hold a technical position, his insights are perhaps more important than anything a designer, programmer or developer can ever tell you. That’s my opinion.

I’ve boiled his insights down to five important takeaways that relate to multimedia. Note that none of his tips have to do with technology.

1. The story comes first. If the story falters, you have nothing.

Always craft stories with characters that people care about and make sure you answer a reader or viewer’s questions before they have them. That serves as the glue that holds a solid narrative together.

2. Provide unique content.

Radutzky used the example of “60 Minutes” staffers filing behind-the-scenes stories and commentary using Flip Video cameras. He said to remember that the interviewer is interesting too. People always love to peek behind closed doors, so to speak.

3. What’s the story really about?

Radutzky said “Every story has some kind of essential soul to it.” Every piece of content you produce should pass a kind of litmus test. If you can’t get to the heart of the story in 60 seconds or less, then maybe it’s not that interesting.

4. Follow your gut.

Always have your antenna out, on and attuned to what’s interesting. You always want to produce visually appealing, emotionally charged content that people can identify with. You can’t do that without trusting your instincts.

5. Segment the content.

Today, people crave short bursts of information. The opportunities to do long-from storytelling are becoming less prevalent. So segment your content into digestible bites, fit for different audiences.

Mark Luckie on Three Great Ways to Stand Out Online

New blogs, photos and videos clog today’s web. The onslaught continues with no sign of slowing down, especially as individuals and companies embrace Web 2.0.

So how do storytellers stand out among the masses?

Three ways, according to Mark Luckie, the journalist and blogger behind the successful blog 10,000 Words.

  • Don’t give up.
  • Create content from the heart – about things that matter to you.
  • Provide something unique.

Luckie spoke via Skype yesterday with two classes in the Interactive Media Graduate Program at Elon University. The two classes, led by Dr. Michelle Ferrier, are called Interactive Writing and Design. I’m part of the program, and in one of the classes. We are currently studying how to develop an online voice and digital identity, which is vital for professionals in any field.

Luckie never imagined the potential growth of 10,000 Words when he started it more than two years ago. He just wanted a clearinghouse for information and inspiration on all things journalism and technology.

When he began, “it was just me messing around,” he said. Luckie, who currently works as a Multimedia Producer for the Center for Investigative Reporting on its California Watch project,” said he has succeeded largely because he has written from the heart. The posts that often garner the most attention are ones he writes off the cuff and quickly, instead of the ones that are more researched and massaged.

The blogger credits word of mouth and Twitter for the increased popularity of his blog, which covers topics such as Flash, interactive maps, photos, video, audio and more.

Luckie described many of the digital tools he uses to scour the Internet for information and inspiration, which go into his posts at 10,000 Words.

He said he uses Twitter to connect with people and promote his blog.

“You can’t find everything you want on the Internet,” he said. “You have to turn to people for inspiration.”

Luckie also turns to tools like Google Reader to read blogs, Delicious to organize links of interest and Google Docs to save powerful documents he might use in the future.

He said blogging requires patience. After he developed his unique voice for 10,000 Words, he went back to earlier posts and edited them to reflect his newfound voice. When asked about developing a voice – especially as a beginning blogger, he said, “You already have a voice. Don’t give up.”

7 Amazing Digital Storytelling Websites

Digital Typewriter Illustration

Stories. We love them.

From the moment we join the fray here on Earth, we engage in storytelling. People once shared stories over fires. They once drew tales on cave walls. Now, we trade narratives on the Internet – in so many forms and fashions.

If you like spinning a good yarn, or being pulled into one, the web represents a gold mine of possibilities. Explore and discover. Experts and creatives find ways for digital storytelling to evolve every day. Where do you want to take it?

Here are seven of my favorite digital storytelling sites on the web. Take a look, and by all means, add yours in the comments section. Let’s get a nice list going!

Center for Digital Storytelling

CDS is an international, non-profit training and research organization dedicated to forwarding digital storytelling. There are many great resources here, including a list of links and case studies.

The Digital Narrative

An amazing collection of all things digital story by Martin Jorgensen. Links lead to great content on examples, teaching digital storytelling, free online tools and more.

Interactive Narratives

One of the premier resources for interactive media storytelling, run by the Online News Association. This site is chock full of incredible work waiting to be devoured.

10,000 Words

A blog maintained by journalist Mark S. Luckie that concentrates on the intersection of technology and journalism. Written with real heart, and full of great advice, tools and tips.

Poynter

Poynter is an authority on journalism issues, and always has intriguing features on the news industry’s ongoing transformation to digital platforms.

MediaStorm

This multimedia production studio based in New York turns out some of the best multimedia storytelling around. It’s one of my favorite places to go for inspiration.

News for Digital Journalists

A blog run by the Knight Digital Media Center, News for Digital Journalists is a great place to go for news, not just on journalism issues, but digital storytelling. The site also has tons of other useful resources for digital storytellers.

Image by Clix.