ABC News has been experimenting with graphic novel journalism on digital platforms in a bid to reach wider audiences and cover previously-reported stories in new ways. 

The digital team at the news organisation works with journalists across ABC News to pick out stories that can be told creatively on digital platforms. Its most recent piece told the story of a man who is struggling with the loss of his daughter to a Korean cult called Providence. 

The team released a comic-strip for mobile audiences on its website, made up of several illustrations depicting the storyline, as well as an animated video for social media which has received over 316,000 views so far.

"We've been talking about doing animated illustrations in the past, and this seemed like a good opportunity," said Jack Fisher, video journalist, ABC News. 

Graphic storytelling takes time and planning, but for the right story it is worthwhileJack Fisher, ABC News

"When you have a story that is really emotional and personal, that's not necessarily going to evoke a lot of empathy through a camera interview, then I feel this format is really powerful."

The project was produced in collaboration with ABC's current affairs show 7.30, that also interviewed the father for television. But rather than just take the audio from the studio, Fisher's team carried out another interview with him in a sound booth for the digital pieces.

"I've made video in the past that has been ripping off interviews that have been done for TV, but when you have your talent in front of bright lights and cameras – they tend to give a certain type of response," he said.

"We spent two to three hours with him, it was a case of producing a really great piece of audio – there are parallels between really great audio and really great digital video. 

"If I find I'm not quite sure where a video is at, if I listen to it without watching, I get a really great sense of whether something is as compelling as it can be. You have to discard all of the rules and assumptions that come with broadcast video if you want to make content to compete with what's out there."

Illustrator Humyara Mahbub was then commissioned to tell the story in 20 frames using Photoshop brushes. These images, alongside quotes from the audio, made up the graphic article, where audiences scroll down the page and read the story like a comic.

"A lot more of our audience read right to the end of the story than perhaps they might have had we done a standard article for the website – it was visually compelling and really friendly for mobile," he said. 

The team was then able to animate these illustrations in After Effects, which, accompanied by the audio recording, became a video on Facebook. 

"We get asked a lot how long a video should be for digital, but there really is only one answer – it's as long as you can keep people's attention," Fisher said, noting that AJ+ is publishing two minute videos whereas Vox is doing it for 10-15 minutes. 

"We want people to engage with content on our site, but at the same time, we recognise that video on Facebook performs well and is especially good for reaching audiences who perhaps aren't following ABC News on Facebook just yet."

Once viewers had finished the story on the site, they were then directed to further reading on the topic.

"Graphic storytelling isn't the kind of thing you can turn out in 2-3 days – it takes time and planning, but for the right story it is worthwhile," Fisher said. 

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