Credit: Image by florianric on Flickr. Some rights reserved

News stories are now competing for attention with the many apps or games available on smartphones, the device which an increasing number of people use to connect with media outlets.

If a story or video is not good enough, people will stop watching – and to prevent this from happening, Belgian broadcaster VRT has developed a philosophy to guide their storytelling process.

"You have reporting, which is transferring facts," said Tim Verheyden, anchor, VRT, leading a workshop at News Xchange today.

"And on the other hand you have storytelling... adding some dramatic elements to your story."

Good storytelling helps audiences understand and remember the piece better.

But every piece starts with a good idea – so how can you get inspired and keep track of your research to build a great story?

Head of VRT Start-up Ezra Eeman, who also runs Journalism2ls, recommended some of his favourites in the workshop:
  • XMind
XMind is a free program to help you build an idea visually and develop different angles.

While covering big stories like the Ebola crisis for example, the tool can help you find the "blind spot" that nobody else is covering.
  • RealtimeBoard
If you're looking at producing a video, RealTimeBoard can help you plan each shot and "brainstorm more efficiently", said Eeman.

The tool is a helpful way of getting a "first visual impression of your story" before having filmed anything.
  • Visual Investigative Scenarios (VIS)
For investigative journalists monitoring complicated networks, VIS can help.

It enables users to map a complicated story, linking players to each other and even pinning messages or files in between.

Once the research is completed, this map can also be embedded into the final story.
  • Banjo Discovery
Banjo recently made Discovery available to journalists for free.

The platform enables users to monitor a patch to find images posted to social media from specific locations, and organise them in albums to build collections of visuals that can accompany a story.
  • Mattermap
Mattermap can be used to organise opinions and quotes around a certain subject.

It could be a useful reporting tool when covering stories such as political debates, but it can also help news organisations make better use of reader comments and promote engagement.

But how can you find the best one?

There are, of course, many other options out there – so how can you choose the right one for your story?

There are six considerations to keep in mind when deciding which platforms or apps to use, explained Eeman.

The first is looking at the story elements – "What do you want to accentuate, what do you want to focus on?". Narrow it down to tools that help you emphasise the location, the characters or the relationships between characters, for example.

Next, choose a tool that's first and foremost functional, and then adds an interesting format and layout, not the other way around. "It shouldn't be just a technology trick, it should add value."

Another aspect to consider is the platforms you are planning to publish the story to – many tools are not responsive, or do not work well with touchscreens if there are interactive elements involved. It is also important to decide which level of interaction you want to include in your story at this stage.

The final two considerations deal with time and money. How much time do you have until your story has to be published, and how much are you able to spend or invest in a tool? Many are available online for free, but that does not mean you are guaranteed to find the right one quickly.

"Sometimes you have to go for custom built-tools that are more reliable," said Eeman.

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