SXSW: Journalists explore storytelling beyond words, what does it mean for PR pros?

by Trevor Jonas on March 12, 2012

When asked by friends and family to describe what it is I do for a living (a topic my colleague Brian Regan covered beautifully recently) I often result to explaining PR as the art of storytelling. We work to both tell the stories of our clients as well as to get others to tell them on our behalf. Oftentimes, but not always, those ‘others’ are journalists and bloggers.

Yesterday at SXSW, I attended a panel entitled Storytelling Beyond Words: New Forms of Journalism. Not being a journalist, it was an enlightening session.

Panelists included Aron Pilhofer, editor/interactive news at The New York Times, Bill Adair, creator and editor of PolitiFact.com, Jim Brady, editor-in-chief of Digital First Media and Stephen Buckley, Dean of Faculty at The Poynter Institute. The conversation was lively and wide ranging, with a few key themes emerging.

First, the panelists agreed that the future of storytelling will go well beyond words to include multimedia elements (photos, videos, sound) as well as interactive infographics based on compelling data and statistics. While many of these things are present in stories today, it’s the way they’re being thought about, constructed and integrated into the stories themselves that’s changing.

For example, rather than write a story and include a video within the text as a ‘sidebar’ or ‘related content,’ journalists are now beginning to think about how best to integrate that content as a core part of the narrative. As a reader, you might read a quarter of a story, then watch a video to get the next piece of the story, read another quarter and close by exploring an interactive set of data that supports the overall content.

As journalists increasingly look to tell stories via vehicles beyond words, communications professionals need to adopt a similar mindset. Think about the story you’d like to tell and determine if it will be most compelling to the target audience if it is in print, is visual, audio or another format. Producing tailored multimedia content that short-staffed media outlets without internal digital skills can easily leverage may increase the chances of getting your story told.

Among the challenges outlined by the panelists was overcoming legacy content management systems that exist within most newsrooms due to the fact that they’re largely built for text and static images and for operating in a world of print. In addition, finding talented writers who have ‘crossover skills’ that enable them to wear multiple hats, including web development, video editing, data analysis and beyond was a common challenge.

In many ways, these are the same challenges communications professionals face when looking to hire people in the digital realm. People with technical chops that know how to spot and tell a good story are extremely hard to find.

If you’re interested in exploring the Twitter discussion from the panel, go here.

Trevor Jonas, Director of Social Media

@TrevR

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