One downside of social media like Twitter and Facebook is the way information has to be compressed. The more popular these platforms have become, the more journalists have feared the extinction of something many of them hold dear: long-form storytelling.
But digital technology doesn’t only value brevity over depth. It also opens the door to new story forms, like the BBC’s immersive account of a murder mystery in Iceland. Not every story is suited to this kind of treatment, of course; it takes a multimedia mindset to figure out what will work and what won’t.
Giles Wilson, features editor for BBC News Online, told a recent workshop that one critical decision is how long a story needs to be. Just because the Internet is bottomless doesn’t mean your story should go on forever. “It doesn’t have to be massively long,” he said, “it just has to be good.” Two of the BBC’s most popular long-form stories have run between 3,000 and 6,000 words.
Projects like this take teamwork, Wilson says.
It’s possible you might have a Renaissance journalist who will find the story, do the research, do the interviews, the filming, photography and stitch it together with the right narrative arc and editorial authority. It’s possible that you have someone like that but more likely not. In our experience you need teams.
Another key decision is how to handle video. “Is the video there as illustration, or is it part of the storytelling?” Wilson asked. “You don’t want to see the join. You want it to be a true multimedia experience where you don’t see the join between the text and the video.”
To accomplish the goal of seamless storytelling, the Iceland story uses a technique that owes a lot to TV news. At a couple of points, the text poses a question: “Where was the body?” or “Why did he confess?” Video is then embedded, much the way a sound bite would be inserted in a TV story.