The Futures of Nonfiction Storytelling
Digital communication has arguably impacted the lives of journalists more than any other media practitioner. But new platforms and ways of circulating content are providing vast new opportunities for journalists and documentarians. How have–and might–nonfiction storytellers incorporate many of the emerging strategies of transmedia storytelling and audience participation from marketing and entertainment, and what experiments are currently underway that are showing the potential paths forward?
Moderator: Johnathan Taplin (University of Southern California)
Panelists: Molly Bingham (photojournalist; founder of ORB); Chris O’Brien (San Jose Mercury News), Patricia Zimmermann (Ithaca College) and Lenny Altschuler (Televisa)
JT: How has the tools changed the way you can tell stories
COB: after drawing back for a whikle, we have plunged in. For Occupy, we got a multi-layered story. I got down there, and wrote a few columns, a step back process, with assessment and analysis. Watched the other jounalists getting involved, having to buy gas masks, watched how they chose who to interview, who to tell the stories, see who it came a national story. We were pulling in tweets and photos etc, and putting these in the site as well. I was struggling about what picture I was getting; onthe whole it was a better more nuanced portrait, as we could get onfo from there, but still getting the traditional perspective
JT: A multi-dimensional story, that was a 2min piece on the news
COB: Yes, especially when it gets to some of the talk shows, filtering through narrative of the story they want, (eg Olberman, Riley). YOu get only a piece of it them. We gave a more rounded, nuanced story. But it is still hard to know about how people are consumingthe story. Do they read all the bits, or just the headlines?
JT: do mexico is a lot of drug cartel stories..how do you get past that
LA: Televista tries to cover the facts as we can..The conflcit involves drug cartels, gov but affect the whole country as the way it is told. You hear all these things, you get there and it is amazing, so what is all that media talk. In Telavista, a debate format, on opoen TV< with younger anchors and jounalistsand a lot of particpation using social media, which is growing. That debate has forced trafitional media to share the facts and not just the perception. That is one of the most important roles. YOu have to take facts from people, not the opinion from 9oclock news anchor. The perception is hurting the country..don't want to minimise problem...but perception still hurts...if you are a regular citizen, stay out of conflict zones, it is a shame were getting that perception, that impacts econimy of country, tourism, I hope that when we particpate as citizens and look at facts we can stop scaring people off from Mexico. We can help as cistizens, not leave it up to the gov, not to resolve it but to make living it there a more normal experience JT: YOu work with Witness, and stories that no one is thinking about, seeing. Does new media help get the stories told? Or do we still have the same problem... PZ: when we talk about joiunalism and documentary, it is from a location in countries of the global norht when e are insulated form life-destroying issues. Where we have tech and profilation. I've been in places whereyou cannot not imagine sittingin a room with so many APple products. IN some parts of Asia, there is an anti-Apple thing, as it is easier to repair PCs. I want to recalibrate this discussion,,less form global north, to think about being somewhere else in the world. Indonesian model..the gadogado model, a salad with lots of stuff in it....a sovergin tthough, an idea of moving from crowd-sourcing to collaboration, with communities, with projects that can promote communities, give meaningful dialogue. AN example, when talk about rvolutions fueled by tech..we forget that revolutiuon come from long social struggles, for rights, or access. Look at Papua New Guinea, that looks to explode. We need to think about moving from provacy, with first world global north definition,s to shift out of that to think about safety and consent..It's easy to think about everything online, but larger issues, what does it mean to have image online in conflict area, if image uploaded you use control. Can we think of mechansims for consent, if imnage to be circulated. What do we do in a world we can have these revolutions, but gov can shut down nodes. Can crowdsourcing used to put people in gaol. Iranian gov used corwdsourcing to identify dissedents, as in Burma...we talk about fastness, corwdsourcing is fast, amphetamine produced media. I'd like to ask for a diofferent kind of movement, slow media. Human Media, conflict zones, is slow media, where you have facts time to dig into story, time to convene community for meaningful dialogues. Not to dive into story worlds, but convene for meaningful dialogues/ One more shift...these issues are serious and they want us to work together. A shift from spreadable to permeable. Move form content providers, to context providers, to experience providers, to engage more people in more dialogue, those convineing are inportant in and of them selves, where new democracies are emerging..eg Indonesia COB: Web access growing, but 40% stilllive in extreme poverty. The gov does do initiatives to better their lives, ther eis a programme with all media companies, the INitiative for Mexico, is a transmedia project, a tv show, where people present projects fo rthe betterment of people lives, where no water, ne electricity. It's a TV show, and gives ratings, but people vote for best projects, they are fully funded. eg solar panales for light for next 25 years. Or water, clean water. These are the kinds where trad media, new media and society are taking action. JT: Back to safety and consent. Molly is the only person gaoled by Saddam Hussein...you know what safety means...we are being challenged to audience that there is no such thing as a professional journalist. The tools that allow people to do things are the same tools the state can use. MB: it was very complex, evolving everyday, Yesterday, FB discussion about what is being kept. Safety is somehting that you decide ot commit jounalism, you are making yourself vulnerable to insecurities, from your security network, from publich, frompeopel who choose violence to express them selves. Working overseas, in armed conflict, it was quite physical. It was also more subtle, if what you learned about what was happening, contradicted the national narraitve, about the US war was going, how was it persued., The reactions abou contradicting that, I was claled a traitor, for having interviewed peopel who were attacking US troops., THis is what we do as journalists. Now there is aggressive national narratives that make the conversation difficult. I;ve never beenscared in own country but was quite concerned after that article. We made rules, not talking on ophones, no digital footprint. Wre found the NSA had been tapping phones, etc. Security is a wide ranging, intellectual freedom and personal. JT: so what is profesisonal journalism? COB: people were challenging abut the role, and the need for them..do people think we would be fine post-profesisonalk world (crowd reaction was that we need the profession). I get that question a lot, ie in Silicon Valley., I try not ot be super-religious about the term..I did not go to journalism school, I learned to do it by doing it...you are doign researhc, verification, you may have domain expertise, a deeper knowledge to bring a perspective, about what is important, bringing context. You would hear different definitions. Also doing journalism and claiming it is not jounalism...ie Michael Arrington...open to fluidity, i want to think about these, what they frame it as, is ta trade off, crowd or profressional, data or not. The win is about extending and enhancing. MB: i also did not go to J school. I see it as acraft, you learn through apprenticeship process. The adherance to a code of values and ethics, what you do and don't are clear and specific and you learn those things. The adhesion to the code is what defines a professional jounalist..and often journos who get paid viloate the code. There is great vcalue in citizen media etc,. a participatory public disccusion, but that is what I mean JT: so crisis is who is going to pay for it. NYT put up paywall, which is working quite well LA: in our organisation, we are a public broadcaster, it is free, access to all. Another paper you pay for subscription, there largest newspaper. We are major media company, we pay for it...ad supported. IN some parts. TV is ads, online no ads...most of population watch the linear content only. As they go online to watch favourite novella..they may see things and try it, eg search. We are looking at building a education and media literacy online as well, an educational tool to open access to information, who may not have another way to access. COB: people may take different info from NYT, about being paid for. One lesson there, from games, is that most engaged users ar eth eones who will spend the most money, they are successful to apply freemium model, virtual goods, the lesson from NYT is that there are core users who will pay, tht will help, to get that revnue. In Bay Area we see the SF Chronicle raise prices, they people who get it will get it for ever. It can be explored, that is one piece of puzzle JT: Patty, you raised context. Back channel askign about digital destroying context,,what can be done PZ: the crux. Context is about the navigation models that help us navigate the globe. You see streams, you see men doing violent things, doing things, singing etc, but does that explain the financial breakdown of countries, is seeing peopel on Egypt street explain what happened there....you need ot look at the history..there is so much utopiaism. you need to shift it down to small projects., It is not tech....EngageMEdia, focus on Asia Pacific, they are jounalists, indonesians, technologists...NGOs. they discover that in conflict areas, you may be making videos, but you may end up in gaol. They are working on tech that goes into cell phones so when take picture will blur your face. Working on lack of electricity...with generators. Working on a site, curated around issues. You can download the site to USB ietc, where there is no wifi, can still share content. You need USB stick to move between areas. YOu need to work out how to upload with low badwidth, the best way to do this...EngageMedia are context providers, It is curated around issues, it provides context. We see projects that are collaborations, between community etc. Wanted to say something about storytelling and non-fiction, Interested about how people think about this. In SE Asia, the narrative is questioned. It is seen as a Western thing, where the narrative structure does not fit. MB: I've spent most of myt career going places as people are leaving., Where I am working now, it is all context. We lack that, the ability to makse sense of what is going on. We are trend driven, not event driven. That third thing is worth focusing energy on JT: BackChannel, wnat to know opinion on VBS..Vice TV. This makes short films from conflict zones...JT made a film Call to action about war reporters...they are all action junkies..I think the reason VBS is successful, it appeals to the action junkie in all of us. Is there some larget context? Do we need the action shots to get us to think about them? COB: one of criticism about Gulf war etc was that it was being santised, you were ot seeing how bad they were. Not seen VBS,it would hard for me to be disdainful about anything that provides more coverage..when stuff is waining. There are things that you won't see on mainstream, you don't see the body bags..where you run into, it, you have to assess on case by case basis, is this war zopne porngraphy, does it portray the terror of living there? Most peopel don't know how scary life was for the average Iraqui. JT: I thought about complicity of large media orgs in embedded reporter. In Vietnam, there was no one embedded...there were not censored. MB: enbedded means you have agreed to a contract. May not be censored, but it can. Talking about the fear in Iraqui peopel..without the weeks of unpacking,the violence does not have meaning. You show as they are incredible, they don't tell you much , It is the quiet long reporting, that gives understanding. But it is not glamerpous., watching someone bleed to death is not glamerous, getting sick with no medical helpo is ot glamnerous. One of the hardest things was knowing that I, as US, had a part in shredding this country. YOu looka tht eway a convoy drives down the road with disregard to foot traffic, a car backfires and soldiers open fire on all around. That is overlooked, JT: a lot of jounalists are creating own brand? How is your thinking about reporters as brands LA: it was a debate. Whenthinking about what twitter onscreen, jouno or programme. Compared to telenovelas talent, the journos, work across different media, they are there own brands. We have SocMed guidelines, We say your twitter is your twitter...you can do what you want. you can't use the brand, but you can say what you want. if you want that on TV screen, then you can., It plays self epxression that should not be moderated. COB: we are moving more towards that, there is a feeling in Valley that you should establish the brand of you, but most peopel don't need to. In media, you can be noble, about social good..you just read without knowing who does it. Moving to a columnist about 3 years, amazing the connection peopel feel to you, as you move into new era, making feel that these are real people, making them connected..is very postive, but frankly exhausting. You have to promote yourself, get yourself out there. It does not come natuarally for anyone, if I am a known quantity, it's also an act of self-preservation LA: Putting a human face on journo, adds to the credibility, beyond the official news. SO if journos have own identity, that gives credibility, makes it more reliable than the offocial posture JT: we have a lot of questions around ethics...the blending of objective and opinion..can it be doem when rewards sensationalism PZ:I have a huge issue as atheorist with objective journalism. We have to look at any utterace as embedded in power relationahips, having a utlity that is not obvious. Objectivity, It is so embedded ion first world american perspective. It came from the need for efficiency. Early journos were more like bloggers, they had opinions. The small newspapers, journos could be too political. Americans talk about news like this, other parts of the world, you see different jounalists, type, Can we agree to take this out of equation. There is a journalism of evidence, of explanatory models, of outting evidence in the public sphere, it is very US. In Aisa, I learnt to take things and flip it. and objectivity just irritates me. Can we say good bye to that context MB: there is perception that journos can deliver trith. Good Journos describe reality, but we are human beings, we have blind spots and predjudeices, a good journo will learn what they are and compensate for them, by surrounding with different people, by challenging themsleves. COB I hear this,..,I am a columnists, so get to do opinion. People are looking for a little of this, who is right..it is boring. we have to be careful of the web rewards the stakeing out the far end of either spectrum. Popular stuff is the extreme. If you take the smart view, you don't get the attention., That is an ogoing thing. The objectivity thing is BS, JT: inthe UK, there are papers positioned. They are very clear where they are coming from. In Mexico, the TV positions in the centre...ar ethey are diferent sides? LA: Yes, there is left and right., It is up to reader...you have to check out sources and form opinion., YOu choose to read a certain type. JT: At Innovation Lab, we do semantic analysis around stories, Are there lessons we can take, about twitter, blogs etc have played in the media revolutions. Is this something that has changed things., COB: there is often too simplistic notion that this was a twitter revolution...etc, There have ben movements for 100s of years that have got on fine without twitter...you have to work out the comms challenge. But wrong to say there was not something new here. As with cicil rights, how to you take something and widen the frame, widen the story, make it national, you can change the power to tilt to them. How do you get sotry out to a wider audience and widen lens. If the NYT did not show up, how else would people find out..now you have more opportunties. Move avenues to get sotry out PZ: now we are in mot exciting times for documentary or jounalism, everything has changed,upside down and ripped apart., Many multiplicity of forms, interactions tech, that has created a new a nd larger pallette, diff tech that can be mixed. Malaysia Kinny, devloped in Malaysia, a place with censorship, but they have lust for US content. They could not shut down web. So they people could not show video in cinema, or on newspapers. SO did citizen jounalism, on web, tell stories. Malaysia Kinny is the go to place to go, they have professional jounalist,s citizen jounalism crowdsourcing info etc, an example of matrix and social, tech model, a successful company now. We have to be careful, looking at complexity of pallettes. MB: I look at all of these as tools...used for many things. I see tech tools that can foster great sharing, it is how we use these tools, how we allow structures to use these tools LA: There is a repsonsibility to all of us, as we post content, about where things go, wher ethe content goes, YOu can change perception of things... we need ot consider things that we share Audience questions Q: how do you prepare for trips in warzones, what stuff do you use? MB: It's been a while since I packed, and it depended. the lighter you move, the better you are. When you have flak jackets etc...what i needed was cash and cameras and a way to file. In Baghdad, in 2003-4, the US built cellphone structure, was not a tool I could have use din reporting, social media helped around film to bring it out. I;m learning social media tools, Q: JT mentioned about UK papers, press aligned with politivcal interests..then it a whilke since been to London. Now we have destruction of that divide, with the NI, expose driven by Guardian, about the tactics papers use. Hacking phones, using detectives. etc, this has undermined arguments about integrity of press..it acts us to ask about function of jounalism COB: is this Murdoch or everyone..over here, not heard the Guardian is doing similar things JT: teh Guardian helped break the story, which says there is journalism that goes against the gov. The Guardian would stay on story, it says there is a role for osmeone to break story. The bigger question, the role that the ubiquitous cellphone network plays, whats to say something like that is not happening here in the US. COB: we have had journo scandels here, Jayson Blair etc. It is trust and accountability, challenges we face as corporations and indoividuals, If I am transparent, doe s that absolve me of ethical and trust questions. And 3rd party services looking at rating us, algorythmically, or peopell , So newstrust.org PZ: there are many examples where peopel form groups, where design and experience, travels across many media forms, to do trust building and create community examples. One project, about mapping the Sierra in california, lots of different groups. They created this project, an exmaple of context designing, needed to figure out what is happening, and what people want. They gotthe stories, aggregated them, shared them, create community dialogues, to embody a community...many of stories were on NPR. They were initially crowdsourced, a really exciting project, There were lots happenign like that. What it is is a mix, that provides a mosaic of the issue, not a for/against model. There are many examples of these projects JT: A question.,. a challenge that bias is obvious. Do Fox news watchers think they are bieng spun? COB: the consumer needs to become more savvy and more critical..should be always the case...I do think there is call that I agree with, you need to have better digital literacy, to become more sophisticated consumers. But I live in a post-fact world, hard to cut through it./ JT: we live in a balkanised news world, you never get counter-factual opionion in your life. May not have happened 20 years ago MB: this is not Fox, nor US, but is global. If ad dependent, therefore audience dependent. If you make the audience uncomfortable, they will turn you off. It is not an outlets problem, but how we reinforace perspective, and how we choose to challenge it and how to welcome it Q: I would like to introduce...entertainment. What is the role of entertainment in future of jounalism LA:Jon Stewart. The perfect mix COB: I don; tthink I have to be Jon Stewart...one lesson is people like them because they are more lively and passionate wiritng. You connect to that person. Read newspapers from years ago, there was a strong voice, an identity. Then it became more professional, forms imposed...and every story had to read the same JT: do you want more entertainment in journalism? PZ: I would ask an ontological question...what is the definition entertainment..is is US first world, popular culture, or is it a media product, accessible easily indigested.,..what does it mean. Are there ways to push out media or should we pull in audiences. So look at Degenerative film media in china, documentary makes, all banned, on USB sticks...you have to see it in a rock and roll club, where there is music, works are passed around on USB stick. Works go to where people are. Q: Is there a role of fiction in journalism... a lot of people have a difficult time with truth, they prefer fiction to the truth..the line between fact and fiction is getting fuzzy COB: could be whole other panel...a novelist had ability to take you into something that will give insight, I wuld still want to separate them.. MB: there is potential to describe reality through fiction, look at how military is using games etc, there is a value but I have a concern. The brain does not do a great job of distinguising fiction from reality, We as apublic, that line gets too blurred...a space to watch COB: News games, looking through a scenario, can be very powerful model of storytelling