From curation to monetisation: Opportunities in digital storytelling

Credit: By Wiertz Sébastien on Flickr. Some rights reserved

"We are in a golden age of storytelling" was the message shared by the New York Times's assistant managing editor Jim Roberts early on in a session at the News World Summit today named 'Obituary: The death of the traditional news story".

For Roberts, this "death" was not something he is particularly worried about - as opposed to the risks being faced by foreign correspondents and issues relating to press freedom. When it comes to the evolution of the news story he said journalists have an "infinitely flexible" and "limitless" toolbox they can use "to employ their craft" on digital platforms.

Roberts was joined in the session by CNN International's vice president of digital Peter Bale, who also spoke about the opportunities in digital storytelling to help journalists witness, create, curate, experiment, monetise and feed curiosity - although he made it clear there are no certainties in this at the moment.

Here are seven of the key takeaways from this session, based on the advice and examples shared by Roberts and Bale:
  • 1. Consider everything as a possible story lead
Roberts spoke about how editors must be open to considering everything from a Lady Gaga tweet, to a collection of uploaded footage showing a massacre, as "at least being part of the story if not the story itself".
  • 2. Be comfortable across publishing formats
Journalists must be just as comfortable communicating to their audience within the confines of a 140 character tweet as they are through a 4,000 word article, Roberts added.
  • 3. Incorporate live feeds into main narratives
Roberts said the New York Times, along with other news outlets (such as ITV News), have worked to find ways to pull together, often in live formats, the mass of information available in breaking news situations, to "filter to an extent to get rid of noise and find best signals".

But the challenge is then how to incorporate these feeds into the main narratives online, he added.

"It's clear to me that even at their best these live news blogs or feeds … are lucky to come close to matching the speed Twitter is able to react to events", with social media platforms becoming the news homepage for many people.

Roberts added that the introduction of tablet platforms is helping to drive new ways of incorporating this form of storytelling into narratives.

They "opened the eyes of many people to the value of that rich immersive experience", he added.

"On the one hand technology is pushing us towards the burst of information in 140 character tweets, but yet is helping create long-read apps that make the process of consuming news in a fuller fashion very rewarding."
  • 4. Some stories "deserve to die"
Following the theme presented by the name of the session, CNN's Peter Bale said there are certain stories that "deserve to die".

Some journalists are guilty of having gone into countries and stories and "not told it in the depth really required" he explained. The "ill-informed" 900 word story produced as a result is "no longer acceptable".
  • 5. Look at opportunities in curation
Bale told the conference the ability to show the "history of a story" through curation enables readers to go "incredibly deep".

CNN has of course worked to harness the "immense" opportunities of curation with its acquisition of Zite, an "algorithmic curation engine" in the form of an iPad, iPhone and Android. We spoke to Zite chief executive Mark Johnson about curation in this podcast.

Bale also spoke about the power of personal curation, such as CNN produced within its coverage of Davos by assembling Twitter lists of those people the CNN team highlighted as "important to watch".
  • 6. Recognise the power of the community
Bale spoke about CNN's iReport platform for citizen journalism, an example of harnessing the power of the community in acting as additional providers of content and bringing in outside voices.

He insisted the platform is "additive rather than negative", and is not working to displace existing CNN staff.

Speaking about his ambition to develop a "stronger outreach programme" to find under-represented voices, Bale also observed that he agrees "it is not just about us sending people from Atlanta into the place, it's about hearing from people in the place permanently".
  • 7. Find ways to monetise the content
"We cannot accept the constant erosion of advertising revenue", Bale said, adding that Facebook is an "immense threat" in terms of revenue and that this is one thing "we really have to address".

Describing monitisation as the "elephant in this room", he offered some interesting examples of digital storytelling work that CNN has done with advertisers which have "the same corporate commitment" as the news outlet, and in a way that helps to "tell the advertisers' story as well".

Illustrating his point he showed a Nokia advert for the iReport app, adding that there are therefore ways news outlets can work with advertisers on partnerships "without compromising editorial principles".

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