Syrian journalist Mais Katt, director of the digital department at Rozana Radio, provided advice related to digital storytelling directed at investigative journalists during their coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Katt explained that in the era of digital devices and the Internet, “it has become idle for journalists to present media materials in a traditional way.” Therefore, journalists today have to think of tools that enable them to present their content in innovative ways that involve the audience in the story.
According to Katt, the coronavirus crisis has been accompanied by an abundance of information, which is rather complex and sometimes contradictory; this is why sentences alone cannot communicate all data and the journalist needs to use innovative media tools to present information to the public.
Digital storytelling is especially important in covering wars, natural disasters, epidemics and diseases, and today, the coronavirus crisis, while its tools help journalists attain their goals in a much better way, either through awareness-raising messages, the representation of numbers and statistics, and even by means of documentation, detection and tracking.
Digital storytelling (also known as visual storytelling) is the method of transforming written stories into interactive and visual digital stories. This technique is new as it became practised in the media field less than ten years ago. There are some platforms in the Arab World that use digital storytelling, such as Inkyfada from Tunisia, InfoTimes from Egypt, Drawer from Lebanon and Rozana from Syria, in addition to others.
Types of digital storytelling
A journalist needs to present information in different formats in order to make it easier for the audience to understand and possibly enjoy watching. There are different tools that suit the different capabilities and skills of the audience, i.e. some tools suit technology experts and other ones are designed for the younger generations that lack advanced knowledge about technological gadgets.
Digital storytelling is a mode of narration made specifically for digital platforms such as those on the web and found on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube, including all forms of “stories” and mobile games. Hence, these digital modes are difficult to integrate into traditional media such as print newspapers, radio stations and or television.
As for the easy-to-use modes, Katt referred to still images, motion images, 360 angle images, 3D images on Facebook, videos, 360 angle videos, drone camera videos, live broadcasts, interactive maps, infographics, video graphics, and motion graphics, in addition to animations, polls, and other digital modes that we can use. Of course, each template has a special style of narration that serves the purpose of communicating information in a different way than other forms.
Interactive digital storytelling is a narration mode that is based on telling the journalistic story and dealing with the audience as a recipient, reader, viewer, or actor in the story. Interacting with the story is either by clicking on the like button, sharing the post, commenting, clicking on the video and watching it, continuing to read the post, browsing the interactive map, answering questions or sharing a questionnaire, or other options if any.
According to Katt, interaction is prior or takes place automatically through “crowd sourcing”, whereby the journalist obtains the elements of his/her visual story from the audience, by asking them for pictures on a specific topic, for example, or cooperating with them in building the story; and thus the audience becomes a key party in structuring the story.
Examples of interactive digital storytelling
– An interactive file produced by colleague Ahmed Awwad from Egypt, Egyptian newspaper Al Mal News
– An investigation on Rozana website entitled Coronavirus in Syria … Distance education is a fake procedure!
– An Investigate on Rozana website entitled Syrian IDP’s: We cannot buy detergents … Our tents are made of garbage
– An interactive map on Al-Mayadeen website How the world faces coronavirus with hope
– A virtual 360 angle image: A virtual image of Al-Oqab Prison in Syria
– 360-degree video produced by BBC, filming Mosul in 360-degree technology
– A website site that provides interactive coronavirus tests, a virtual test — Palestine Remix
– “Cognitive test” cookies in a Facebook story about coronavirus, an interactive game
– A story about George Floyd on the CBC News account on Snapchat — the story of George Floyd
– Infographic – Info video
-Motion graphics- Animation example
-Interactive digital games, the story of the Iranian journalist
What skills do you need to have in order to tell a good digital story?
It is important to know that digital storytelling is based on creating content and is not limited to a set of technical tools that can be used to tell a story. Also, having access to research and tracking information tools is essential in this process, in addition to the ability to be creative and resourceful in telling the story of your investigation, as well as to being aware of the latest technical tools available.
Steps to produce a multimedia material using a correct language
First, choose the angle with a strategy to build the story, and then define your sources and the type of materials that you can obtain, including sounds, pictures, video, or others, if any.
Second, assess your team’s technical capabilities appropriately, set the cost, create a plan, then develop it while building your story in its written form, in addition to making sure that the work is done within an atmosphere of team spirit, and finally enjoy the result.
Third, when drafting sentences accompanying photos, videos, and infographics, make sure to always abbreviate and choose words that are direct “like an arrow”, as Mis Katt puts it. Also, stay away from demonstratives, relative nouns, and long, complex sentences.
User experience is key to the success of the interactive story
The user experience varies according to the target group, there is no single measurement that fits all groups, and based on this point, we must be keen to provide a digital experience that can be understood and interacted with, in a way that the user understands the way to watch, enjoy and interact with the material automatically without explanation or complication. An example of a suitable user experience is presented by Inkyfada, and another example of a specific target group is the article about European Weapons.
Tools you can use:
– Websites that provide digital storytelling services: Shorthand, the example of “The grooms of cyberspace”
– Digital services website ex.co, an example from City dog website
– Google Maps services, Google online training on the use of Google Maps
– Freebpik website offers free photos, montages and graphic elements
– Pixlr which is an online photo editing website
-Squaready app allows writing on photos and converting videos and images into GIFs.
– Enapseed free mobile photo editing and effects app
– Atavist allows you to create a free account and publish directly on the platform