There are so many ways to tell a story now — a tweet, an infographic, a Snapchat Story, an Instagram post, virtual reality, a push alert. You’ve heard the buzzwords around these platforms: ~native~ and ~distributed~. They’re trends that took off in 2015. In 2016, let’s aim for a new trend: integration. Which does not refer to content — it refers to your newsroom.
Yes, news organizations are publishing on more platforms than ever. And we know that they’re making content especially for those platforms. But we still let two forms of journalism dominate how we tell stories: You’re a broadcaster or a writer. You reach for your camera or your notebook, so you can produce a video package or an article. Everything else is secondary. No matter the story, the default response is to fit it into the format you were trained in.
When you stop to think about how these formats came to be, it seems kind of silly that we’re still hanging onto them. Pockets of our industry are going hard at truly native and distributed content, but most of us are still in the phase where it’s an afterthought. We’re defaulting to one type of format — one from a different era, intended for a medium that is not the Internet — then breaking it up and distributing it elsewhere. And that work is usually done by someone else (👋from a social media editor turned mobile editor — I would know).
News consumers are getting their information so many different ways, and you’re the expert on your story; you can probably tell it best. Other types of storytelling shouldn’t be just something that comes before or after ~The Thing~ you were trained to do. Sometimes they should be The Only Thing.
Newsrooms needed social media and mobile editors, but it’s time to move past the part where reporters do one chunk of work and leave the rest to the various experts. That expertise shouldn’t be hoarded by one desk. These skills need to be better integrated throughout newsrooms.
When you’re working on a story, ask yourself: How is your audience getting the news and how can you best serve them there? Learn about all the ways you can distribute content. Then always keep that diverse set of tools in mind.
We still need great articles and TV news packages, don’t get me wrong. But think story first. Let the material drive your story — don’t gather it and spit it out according to a formula. Don’t write 800 words when only 300 and an Instagram embed are necessary.
I don’t know what all your stories can or should look like. But I do know if we all move away from our default positions, we can surprise ourselves with our creativity.
(If you’re wondering if I thought about various ways to tell this story: I did. And I determined this is the best one. Maybe I’m more old-fashioned than you think.)
Laura E. Davis is an editor on the BuzzFeed mobile news team.