Archive for category Audience

Transmedia Journalism: A new storytelling strategy and a blog to go with it.

This is a cross-post with my additional new blog “Transmedia Journalism.” There I’ll be describing my research of the last year and continuing to flesh out the ideas behind it. Here’s what it’s about:

Wild Art

Social Media. © Kevin Moloney

If you are here, reading this, you know that journalism is having some trouble. Not only is the economic model that used to pay for it sinking fast, but journalists are having a harder time reaching the public with their work in a very diverse and dispersed mediascape. This new blog and my ongoing research is mostly about the latter problem, though all of journalism’s woes are inextricably linked. Rather than waiting for the public to come to us for the news, we need to send our work down every conceivable avenue to find the public — new publics too — and win their engagement and loyalty. We need to improve the way we tell stories.

That is where the title of this new blog comes in. “Transmedia” is one of the top buzzwords of the past two years in the entertainment and advertising industries. It is proving to be extremely effective in reaching and engaging the public in those two realms, and there is much about it that we can put to use in telling the informative and factual stories journalists want to tell. Hollywood and Madison Avenue are using transmedia techniques to win more fans and engage them more deeply. That’s something we should want too.

Transmedia storytelling is not just convergence or multimedia by a new name. It’s also not an entity solely of the digital age. The Web is an excellent tool for much of it, but a transmedia story doesn’t unfold there or in any other single medium alone. It can, however, use any aspect of any media from the cave painting to the latest killer app.

Transmedia storytelling and the transmedia journalism I propose tells stories across an array of media — analog, digital and even brick-and-mortar — in an expansive rather than repetitive way. That would mean telling a complex story not only across the usual print, Web and broadcast media, but possibly through books, games, immersive experiences, graphic nonfiction (comics), gallery walls, museum installations, public lectures, public interaction and authorship, or any other medium appropriate to the story. It also means not simply re-editing a story for repetition among those media.

In entertainment it looks (briefly) like this:

star-wars-a-new-hope-3d-posterStar Wars did it largely by accident. Starting with one film in 1977, the story proved so compelling and engaging that it exploded across the mediascape from films to comics, books, games, toys, fan fiction and video, and any other medium you can think of. Inspired by this, creators of 26971359-d014-4f5b-899d-baf1a97a2635The Matrix franchise in the late 90s designed a similar experience from the start, planning how their story would unfold not only on the screen, but continue through all those other media and more. Since the Matrix tale began more than a decade ago, other entertainment franchises, like the hugely successful Lost TV series, have successfully used transmedia storytelling design to rivet fans and put them to work finding, sharing and shaping stories.

As the new blog unfurls I will describe what transmedia storytelling is, where it comes from and how we can use it within the goals and ethics of journalism. It will come in both appetizer- and entree-sized chunks, but if you’re a big eater you can download the full academic paper. You’ll also see links there to all the pieces of important context and background on transmedia storytelling and transmedia journalism as they are published. Subscribe to the feed or the related tweets to know when there’s something new.

That blog will also be a hub for my ongoing research on the subject, and a place to air my and your related discoveries about it. Post links to interesting examples of transmedia stories from any industry, and send observations and suggestions my way. I’d love to hear them. And what does it have to do with photojournalism? I believe we visual reporters are very used to the idea of telling stories by alternative means.

This post is the barest scratch of the surface of what will come. Look ahead for deeper explanations of what transmedia storytelling looks like in the entertainment media — with many linked examples — places where journalism has gone before, and what transmedia journalism might look like — also with many linked examples. To start a deeper exploration go to the Contexts page there, and stay tuned to it is as the background and examples are posted.

The journalism profession is not short on experimentation with new ideas, new technologies and new storytelling methods. But they seem more like attempts to keep the publics they used to have than to find and engage new ones. I believe by adopting the techniques of transmedia storytelling, we can reach out to new readers, viewers, listeners and interactors in the media spaces where they already are, and engage them more deeply in complex real-world stories. It could certainly be easier than reviving our old model of expecting them to come to us.

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Fame is Narrative

Photo by Vivian Maier, Linked from http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/

What makes the difference between a recognized artist and a dabbler, an amateur or a dilettante?

I am sure there are formulas, Ph.D. dissertations and many entire books on the subject. I’m not writing this as an expert, only an observer.

And I’ve been observing the case of Vivian Maier, a long-time amateur street photographer whose work was only discovered by accident in 2007 and attributed to her shortly after her death in 2009. Her images were uncovered by a few auction buyers who purchased her negatives and found themselves intrigued by the images. Through their efforts her work has since been published in blogs and international publications and exhibited by museums.

Photo by Vivian Maier, Linked from http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/

Much of what makes the work compelling is the story behind it — a reclusive and private nanny who never really shared her images and found recognition only after the end of an austere life.

That could be tragic. We all want to know in our own lifetime how our work is received. But then again she appears to have intentionally stayed out of sight. Maybe the tragedy is that we have thrust an intensely private person into the spotlight with our admiration.

Tragedy (and overcoming it) makes a powerful narrative. And that narrative, as much as her work, is what is propelling Maier onto the world stage as an artist. Other tragic photojournalism figures have caught our attention this way, from Robert Capa’s companion Gerda Taro to João Silva. Capa, Chim and Werner Bischof have tragic narratives in tandem with their great images. The story of young Dan Eldon’s death in Somalia would have lingered in our hearts and minds for a relatively brief amount of time. But he left behind his own narrative journals, and those were aired by his mother and sister in an excellent documentary on conflict photographers.

Drama isn’t the only propeller of narrative, though. Character plays an important part too. It’s very hard to think of a canonized artist who was not a great character. Georgia O’Keefe, for example, caught the public’s attention intensely after her work was interpreted as sensual or sexual despite her objections. With that interpretation, she became a character in the art world and more famous as a result. Then after moving to New Mexico in the 1940s she created an entirely new character of the reclusive desert artist. Rarely is her work seen without either persona in mind by the viewer.

When we decide to become photojournalists we are often choosing a character already — one of a world-traveling bon vivant as Andre Friedman and Gerta Pohorylle created in the invention of Capa and Taro. Or we imagine ourselves grizzled war correspondents like Ernie Pyle, artful cowboys like Bill Allard, sensitive investigators like Donna Ferrato, or artists of the ephemeral like Sylvia Plachy or Martine Franck.

Of course art is important. No amount of character can be made up for (for long at least) by a lack of talent. This brings me back to Vivian Maier. In a very recent article in Chicago Magazine, Colin Westerbeck, a former curator of photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and coauthor of an outstanding tome on street photography, said in an interview, “She worked the streets in a savvy way,” he says. “But when you consider the level of street photography happening in Chicago in the fifties and sixties, she doesn’t stand out.”

No, she doesn’t. The work is familiar even where it is compelling. It lacks, perhaps, the higher purposes of academic art where the artist strives for a statement, an irony, a challenge that may only be evident to academics or those who bothered to read the analytical preface of the book. In addition, she cannot control how the work is being edited now, so we see her gems mixed with frames she might have discarded.

Photo by Vivian Maier, Linked from http://vivianmaier.blogspot.com/

I believe Maier’s work is art because of its absolute purity. I’ve been watching her images appear on John Maloof’s blog since before her fascinating narrative began to unfold, and they had me from the start. Hers is the work of an artist who worked only for her own satisfaction. The opinion of friends, relatives, editors or critics was never sought. The images are wonderful because they are done only for her personal pleasure, yet they still surpass the work of a million other amateurs working contemporaneously.

Yes, she is an artist with a great narrative.

As much as we would hope our being defined as “artists”  is a result of our work alone, the art is only a sliver of the formula. What is accepted as art and who is defined as an artist is as much about marketing our narratives as it is about anything else.

In marketing that narrative we must also craft our work to the expectations of the critics, the editors and collectors who will buy it, or the academic analysts who will deconstruct it.

For ourselves, though, we need to stay pure and chase what intrigues and satisfies ourselves — all those others be damned — as Vivian Maier did.

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You can help support John Maloof and Anthony Rydzon in their efforts to make a documentary film of Maier’s life at Kickstarter.com.

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It’s not really thankless job afterall.

Sonya Robison, of rural Yoder, Colo., was attacked in 2006 at home and missed a couple of payments while deciding whether to abandon the home because of her trauma. She decided to stay, and negotiated a repayment plan with her servicer. Though Robison was current on payments, she went away for Christmas and returned to find the locks changed and the house "winterized." The electricity, gas, and water supply were all turned off. The servicer said it was a mistake, and they would cover the costs of turning everything back on. She suggested she just skip one payment. By the time she made the next payment, they sent it back and initiated foreclosure proceedings. But it turns out the party that's filed the foreclosure does not appear on any deed or note. She is suing the bank. © Kevin Moloney, 2010

Aspects of the journalism profession can seem lonely. Though we meet an endless stream of interesting and compelling people in our reporting, connection to our readers, viewers or listeners is mostly one-way. And though we now have comment sections on publication Web sites, those comments are rarely about our craft and even more rarely about the photographs. Comments tend overwhelmingly to be critical of the subject matter or the others who bother to comment.

I’ve always wondered what reaction my pictures might have, both for telling a story and for their craft.

Then yesterday I received one of the most charming phone calls of my career. An 88-year-old Washingtonian was compelled by an image I made to write a letter to the editor at the New York Times. And better yet, he sleuthed out my phone number and called me to read it to me over the phone.

The smile has yet to leave my face.

The letter:

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, N.Y.  10018

RE: New York Times October 28, 2010 Business Page 1

Dear Sir: On the Times October 28 Business page is shown a photo by Kevin Moloney placed above a report on Housing Foreclosures.

This photo captures all the elements of an Edward Hopper painting of his late 1920’s period.

Looking into two windows of a house we see a seated woman before the left window – with a dim light on her coming through the window curtains. On her left is a brown desk or bureau with a small red object on top and the four rear window-panes provide photographic balance to the sitting figure.

The face of the young lady half in shadow, half in light evidences isolation, loneliness as well as sadness.

Turning to the adjoining apartment we see that the window is shut and the dimly lit room contains a bureau, with a green plant and an empty chair with curtains drawn. Our sight of the empty room with no person present emphasizes the isolation of the young lady in the adjoining room. The red object resting on the bureau in her room  balances the green plant on the bureau in the adjoining room.

From the outside, the two windows are framed in a blue paint line and both windows are united into a central panel by a flat surrounding black wooden frame. The photographic portrayal of the isolated individual in her dimly lit surroundings reminds one of  a Hopper painting.

Yours sincerely,
William R. Haley*

*As a graduate of Princeton ’45  I have had a continuing interest in art. In 1990 I endowed the James F. Haley Lecture Series at Princeton. The speaker earlier this year was the Director of the Museum of Modern Art.

Thank you Mr. Haley.

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