Templar Business Brain event: Storytelling in the digital age

Our first Business Brain event of 2017 explored the essential ingredients needed for telling great stories in the digital age. Our guest chair, Belinda Goldsmith, Editor-in-Chief at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, gave expert insight into how the way people consume news and information has changed and what we can do to keep readers engaged.  The discussion also highlighted the importance of brand integrity in the current climate of “fake news” and how we need to adapt the way we communicate to counter this challenge.

“How do you tell a good story? You put someone’s life in that story – you make it emotional, you make it human, you relate it to people. The art of good story telling is about people. It’s about relationships with other peoples lives.” – Belinda Goldsmith, Editor-in-Chief at the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

CONSUMPTION AND keeping readers ENGAGed

  • According to Facebook, about 1.18-billion people log onto the social network platform daily.
  • Research company Dscout reports that the heaviest smartphone users click, tap or swipe on their phone 5,427 times a day.
  • The website Statista reports Twitter as having 305 million monthly active users.
  • 510,000 comments are posted and 293,000 statuses are updated on Facebook every 60 seconds, according to The Social Skinny.

With these numbers in mind, it’s easy to understand how a myriad of factors including dwindling attention spans, tweets limited to 140-characters and an utter bombardment of information and media from the time we wake up till we sleep, has completely changed the information landscape.

These changes have been a challenge for multimedia and news organizations – information overload is everywhere.

In order to get attention and keep readers engaged, journalists are incorporating a more focused multi-media approach to crafting stories by using images, videos and making sure that it’s platform and audience appropriate. The key to telling good engaging stories is still all about people and their lives.

“Visuals are very important but words are still needed – people will still read.  Everyone thought long-form journalism was dead but people want to read in-depth pieces. One of the most important ways to engage readers from the outset is a good headline – write your headline, write your story then go back to your headline again, because without a good headline nobody is going to click and read the story

Even though the fundamental role of journalists has not changed in finding the facts and distilling information for readers, a magnifying glass has been cast on engaging the right audience and also providing them with a multi-media approach to stories about people and lives.” – Belinda Goldsmith

Brands of integrity

We’ve seen politicians use social network platforms to send out their own messages. We’ve seen the US presidential race marred with 140-character accusations published every other day. And many of us are guilty about sharing a piece of information on a social network site without checking the validity of the source. Press conferences are no longer held so regularly. It can be hard to get journalists to fill rooms to cross-question business and political newsmakers.

Social networking giant Facebook, which was under heavy criticism for allowing the spread of fake news during the US presidential election last year, has this week announced changes to its algorithm. Vice president of product management Will Cathcart said in a post that it was done to “help prevent hoaxes and fake news from appearing.”

“Being able to have trusted, reliable, well sourced news from organisations like Thomson Reuters, the BBC or the Financial Times is still important to many people. Fake news, that which appears on Twitter and other social media, emphasize the importance of having  dependable news sources. 

People might want go the source that they respect, a source that has sifted through the noise to find out what is really going on and will give an informed view on what is happening. The source of the story is vital and if a journalist goes digging and can only find one source, then a credible journalist will push the pause button and dig harder because it may easily be wrong. ” – Belinda Goldsmith

Digital era is driving innovation

The new way in which we consume information has also been a catalyst to bring about change. Journalists armed with great stories and engaging multi-media in their stories are able to drive innovation and solutions on a much larger scale, appealing to readers disengaged with a constant flow of bad news with no apparent end. Journalists are using the power of the photos and video to inspire and motivate far more than ever before now.

A picture really does say a thousand words: it has the ability to evoke strong emotions, sum up a story in one shot and also brings a reader’s attention to the related content. A great example of the power of strong imagery was the photo of the three year old Syrian boy washed up dead on a beach in Turkey in September 2015 that went viral and created a movement that influenced changes in policies in government and got people mobilised into action.

Text stories can also motivate. Off the back of a Thomson Reuters Foundation expose about child deaths in mica mining in India, Volkswagen announced an investigation into the Indian companies supplying its mica which is used to put the sparkle in car paint and cosmetics. 

“We have found that the younger generation, in particular, is very focused on innovation and solution driven journalism and that’s changing the way that stories are approached. The sorts of storytelling done in the digital age is changing.” – Belinda Goldsmith


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