Tag Archives: news

Within Limits and Free of Constraints

Paul F. Moloney photographs from the sidelines of a football game in 1957, for the Greeley Tribune. My father worked through the apex of one-to-many mass media in the U.S. (Photo by Bob Waters)

There are times when a constraint is fuel for the creative process. As a veteran photojournalist I know deeply how the need to tell an entire story within a small frame, by slicing a millisecond from the unstoppable flow of time can heighten my awareness, accelerate my storytelling skills and open the adrenalin valve. In journalism as a whole, constraints can lead to cleaner and more efficient stories.

But those constraints are largely a product of the mediascape of prior centuries. Classic journalism forms like the inverted pyramid structure, the ten-column-inch story or the 30-second broadcast news segment all came into being because space and time in legacy media was scarce and expensive. And those constraints have been in front of us for so long that they ceased to be just involuntary constraints and have become journalistic standards. Even as the cheap and plentiful Web has broken those restrictions, I have heard many veteran journalists argue that those classic forms are the only real journalism out there.

But what is journalism? I argue that it is simply telling a factual story reported by someone who was rigorous in his or her effort to eliminate assumptions and verify facts, and produced carefully for a concerned public. It isn’t defined by style, structure or medium. We now have virtually unlimited ways to tell a factual story and, in online media at least, an extremely low publishing cost. Stories that justify expansion are far less limited by the economics of the media.

The best journalism will always be efficient in its use of space and time. Daily coverage of boilerplate stories generally do not need expansive transmedia coverage to do their job well. They should stay concise and limited in the time they demand from the engaged public. But when major stories emerge that have complexity, nuance and deep connections to many other stories in our world, then transmedia storytelling is a valuable method.

Transmedia entertainment continues to grow. The transmedia-native SLiDE, an Australian Fox8 teen drama, unfolds on screen and expands through social media designed to give its teen fans a sense of ownership in the story. I was recently impressed by the transmedia worldbuilding efforts of the Ninjago toy series from Lego, in which a backstory of epic style was built for those funny little Lego characters. Academy-Award-nominated Chico & Rita has planted its story in front of new audiences through a comic and music. And dozens of documentary film projects in production declare themselves transmedia projects.

In journalism new tools continue to emerge. Deep Dive from the New York Times adds new degrees of drillablility to their massive archive, and the array of games published by the Times continues to grow. The explosive growth over the past few years of Tribune Media Group’s ChicagoNow and TribLocal confirm that the public is ready for a sense of ownership of their news as well as deeper engagement with it.

LUCEO Images' innovative Greater than the Sum exhibition

This is not simply a big-media game, however. I continue to watch with pride as my former students find new ways to bring their work to the public through both traditional media and its alternatives. They not only fuel their work but reach new audiences through crowd funding. They offer lectures on their stories, line gallery walls with their storytelling images and collect artifacts that connect to their stories. They reach out to the public by any logical means, and they do it alone or in small collectives.

Transmedia journalism does require more advance planning than other kinds of coverage. Decisions need to be made on questions like what the keystone medium will be, how will the story expand (not repeat) through other media, and what subset stories lend themselves to a particular medium. Our constraints of space and possibility are gone.

But what about limits? Fortunately for us we can call our limits self imposed. We can produce journalism within logical limits based only on the value of a story, the attention of our publics and the budget at hand. We can now work within limits even as we are free of old constraints.

The latest major piece of Contexts information is now up, and it looks at ways a transmedia journalism story can be told. Read on for more transmedia thinking. Drill deeper.


Transmedia Journalism in Principle

A factual story can be told in more ways and more places than journalists usually consider. © Kevin Moloney, 2010

Here’s a miniature manifesto for transmedia journalism:

We journalists need to find the public across a very diverse mediascape rather than expecting them to come to us. The days of the captive journalism audience are over, and if we hope to serve our ideals of democracy, human rights, environment and positive social change, we need to find a broad public.

To make our stories salient we need to engage the public in ways that fit those particular media. We lose an opportunity to reach new publics and engage them in different ways when we simply repurpose the same exact story for different (multi) media. Why not use those varying media and their individual advantages to tell different parts of very complex stories? And why not design a story to spread across media as a single, cohesive effort?

To define our goals I’ll remix and repurpose Henry Jenkins’ principles of transmedia storytelling to fit the journalist’s cause. There’s nothing new to invent for them. Examples of all of these principles have already appeared in journalism, they just haven’t been sewn together in a predesigned and expansive story campaign. This is no more a “digital first” idea than it is an entity of ink-on-paper or Murrow-esque broadcast news. But it could embrace all three of those methods as well as games, virtual reality, museum installations or even paper airplanes. It also requires no change in the ethical ideals journalists value.

Transmedia journalism should be:

  • Spreadable: What makes a story infectious? How can we and do we inspire the public to share the stories we craft among their own networks, so they reach beyond our core public? Examples.
  • Drillable: How can we activate the public’s curiosity, enough to sleuth out more depth and detail on their own? If there is more to be found — either among our own extensions of the storyline or among the world’s social and data networks — the public’s engagement will be deeper. Examples.
  • Continuous and serial: As our stories expand across an array of media, how can they keep their continuity of shape, color and tone even as they leverage the strengths of each individual medium? By letting the story unfold across those media in series, would we keep public attention longer? Examples.
  • Diverse and personal in viewpoint: Can reporting from a variety of perspectives strengthen the telling of a complex story or engage new publics we might have otherwise missed? What can we gain from letting the public in on the process and result of journalistic work? Examples.
  • Immersive: We always want to draw our publics deeper into a story, to the point they forget they may be separate from it. How can we put alternative storytelling forms to work on a complex story, to better explain a system or help the public understand a story’s impact on its subjects? Examples.
  • Extractable: What can the public take away from our work and put to use in their everyday lives? The more our reporting enters their world, the more engaged the public will be. Examples.
  • Of real worlds: All our stories are the product of a real, complex and multifaceted world that is the envy of fiction writers. What can we do to embrace this complexity and nuance in journalism instead of always simplifying that world? Examples.
  • Inspiring to action: Most of us become journalists in hope of changing the world for the better. How can we inspire the public to put down our pages or step away from the screen and fix a problem or reward a success? Examples.

For a more detailed look at these qualities and how they have worked individually already continue on to the full Transmedia Journalism Principles page under Contexts at the top of the window, or linked at the top of the column on the right. If you just tuned in, find more context to these ideas in earlier posts on this blog and their related pages.

Coming next: Building it. It may not be as complicated as you think.


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