Written by: Alba Leon

Why are you here? That is a very confronting question, particularly when posed as the opening of a conference. But that’s exactly what Amy O’Leary, Editorial Director at Upworthy asked the audience during the conference Digital Storytelling in a Digital Age, organised by Stichting Verhalende Journalistiek in Amsterdam.

It was a Friday, and the weather has not been all that forgiving considering it is already spring. Yet the room was packed with eager journalists. And the day gave much food for thought. The main question was, as has always been in journalism, how does one keep the attention of a fickle public in the time of information overload? How can people who tell stories to inform and to challenge, and who pride themselves in their craft, compete with the wide array of information and entertainment that is out there, often produced on a shoestring?

how does one keep the attention of a fickle public in the time of information overload?

Journalists at the cutting edge of tech and journalism, including Lam Thuy Vo, Edecio Martinez, and Hay Kranen discussed how technology is changing the way we tell stories, and showed us where the new frontier is. They encouraged the audience to explore, and to link with others, to reach out and to experiment. Failure is almost a must, if you want to keep on going beyond the current frameworks of journalism. Kat Chow showed us how the often thorny discussions on race can benefit from more engagement, and engagement with audiences that until then had not even been on the radar. And John Keefe actually used us all to demonstrate how digital tools can serve to gather data and strengthen a story. Among his tools? The humble text message, and the unassuming Google Forms.

John Keefe
John Keefe

Radio and TV are still very much alive

One salient aspect of the conference was the importance of traditional media, and most notably radio, in the current landscape. It seemed as if radio producers were riding high on the wings of that wonderful invention: the podcast. And Julie Shapiro, a podcast producer, showed us how difficult it was to produce good podcasts, and how easy it all seemed. Tim Verheyden, Chief Storytelling at a Belgian TV station, talked about how to best make use of the millions of smartphones that are out there, and of the role of journalists as guardians of quality, and of course, storytellers.

Julie Shapiro 1
Julie Shapiro

Storytelling is a superpower

The conference gave me more tools that I can deploy to reach out to different audiences. Storytelling, all speakers stressed, is really what keeps people coming back. It is the place where content and technique meet, and all great things happen.

So what did I learn? What can I take away from a day packed with inspiring stories?

1. Always be on the lookout for tools to tell your story. The tools are out there: Instagram, Snapchat, even GIFs, you just have to put them in your bag of tricks and take them out when needed.

2. You don’t need to learn how to code, but you need to know enough to be able to talk to those who do. Those websites and items that look effortless took a lot of testing and a lot of effort to  be that simple.

3. It’s still all about the content. If you have a flashy website, with bells and whistles, but your content is not good enough, then your audience will still find a better use for their time.

4. To innovate you need to cooperate. While you may not want to give others access to your story, you do want to work together and join forces to see how to do things better.

All in all, a very successful day. And all participants got to take home not only the best tips and tricks from these world class journalists, but also a VR viewer, so they can enjoy the work of those journalists that are using 360 video in their work, today.

Panel Discussion with John Keefe Edecio Martinz and Lam Lam Thuy Vo
Amy’s Talkshow with John Keefe, Edecio Martinz and Lam Lam Thuy Vo