Preview: Storytelling Beyond Words: New Forms of Journalism

We are in the midst of the great digital age, yet many journalists seem to be stuck in the past.  It is time for journalists and news sources to embrace technology, social media and data visualization in order to connect with today’s audience.  Consumers no longer want the typical news story; they want to connect with the story through interactives and visuals.  “Storytelling Beyond Words:  New Forms of Journalism” will detail ways that journalists and news outlets can use these tools to connect with their audience.

Aron Pilhofer

Aron Pilhofer is the editor of Interactive News at The New York Times, where his team of journalists and developers build data-driven applications to enhance The New York Times‘ online reporting.  Pilhofer is also the co-founder of DocumentCloud, a software platform created for journalists which makes primary source documents easier to find, analyze and annotate.  At The New York Times, Pilhofer’s interactive team combines both graphics and multimedia with an “emphasis on web interactive.”  For example, during this year’s Super Bowl, the Interactive team created a dashboard which combined social media and blogging.  Pilhofer emphasizes the importance of visualization.  “Visualization is a part of what we do; we build platforms to tell stories.”  A major problem with journalism today is that many news outlets are stuck in the past.  “We all are in some ways shackled to our legacy of platforms and products.”  The New York Times has been “lucky enough to have seen the light, and allow us to tell stories in different ways and take us outside of these templates.  We have been able to build interactives and new platforms, which go beyond just utilizing Facebook and Twitter to interact with the consumers.”  “We look at social as interactive.”  For instance, during the Super Bowl, “users were able to vote on various things, like the color of Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick’s hoodie and whether or not the National Anthem would be under a minute.  These polls ran concurrently with the dashboard, which made it interactive for readers.”  Pilhofer has learned a lot about building platforms, and “moving beyond the system of putting content directly from paper onto the web.”  Read about how The New York Times is teaming up with Facebook on an interactive Oscar ballot.

Bill Adair is the editor of PolitiFact and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Tampa Bay Times.  PolitiFact, which won the Pulitzer Prize

PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter

in 2009 for its coverage of the 2008 election, uses data visualization in reporting on the accuracy of political statements.  The Truth-O-Meter is the “heart of PolitiFact and is used to rate factual claims.”  The Truth-O-Meter is a clear example of data visualization and how this type of reporting can be used to reach a visual audience.  According to Adair, “simplicity is key.  We have resisted suggestions to make our reporting more complex.”  Like Pilhofer, Adair believes many journalists and news outlets are stuck in the past.  “I think what the media has done in a 21st Century world is use 19th and 20th Century tools.  Basically, they take news stories and paste them in pixels.”  This outdated reporting format is not limited to newspapers.  “TV stations are still taking segments from news and putting them on the web.  They fail to take advantage of the web and mobile, and should customize news to readers’ interests.”  Adair emphasizes that news outlets “don’t do a good job of taking content and making it searchable.  A big reason driving this is that newspapers and TV stations are still using outdated content management systems.  “News organizations have invested all of this money into content systems that aren’t flexible.”  How can journalists break away from this type of outdated reporting?  Adair believes that thinking differently and experimenting is key.  “You have to work for a news organization that is willing to try new things.  The key is for media companies to experiment, think outside of the box.”

Jim Brady is the editor-in-chief of the Journal Registry Company, and he oversees the strategy for all 75 daily newspapers and the hundreds of weeklies the company operates.  Brady emphasizes the importance of taking risks in journalism.  “The news business needs to be reinvented, and that means challenging all assumptions.  If you’re not willing to challenge those assumptions, then get out of the way, because this digital train is picking up steam.”  Brady understands that data visualization is more than just another tool.  “Frequently, using data visualization communicates the gist of a story better than any other format, and when that’s the case, it should be used as a primary device.”  Brady asks an important question that journalism must answer, “Why try to communicate a complicated subject via words when data is clearer?”

Jim Brady

Pilhofer believes that the “experiences of each panelists brings something different to the discussion of storytelling.”  He is interested in the panel because of the other panelists.  “People who attend this panel will learn a bit about how to move beyond the template, basic system and gain ideas on how to make their content interactive.”  Brady believes that attendees of this panel will not only “get a better understanding of how journalism is changing, but also will gain insight into how some of the more progressive parts of the industry are using these storytelling tools.”

Join Aron Pilhofer, Bill Adair, Jim Brady and Stephen Buckley, Dean of Faculty of The Poynter Institute on Sunday, March 11th to learn more about how journalists can and should go beyond old forms of storytelling.