Beyond the story

On Thursday I was blogger in residence for the News Rewired event, which looked at new business models for journalism in a digital age.

Because of my blogging duties, I was not able to give as much in-depth consideration to the presentations as I would have done normally. But there were a few highlights that I’d like to share. For me the high point of the afternoon was the final session on social gaming which was an eye opener.

Philip Trippenbach, an interactive producer at the BBC had some interesting news about a project he is working on which is trying to make sense of the British Class system. However, I was more interested in his opinions on non-narrative forms of journalism. It was this element of the News Rewired programme that truly encapsulated the “Beyond the Story” sub-title.

For Trippenbach, you can’t write a story about climate change or the financial crisis. Molly Flatt sums this up very well on her own blog:

Stories have traditionally been the lifeblood of the media, but situations or issues that are complex, systemic, non personalised, and non localised are actually stifled by the distortion and personalisation of narrative – what they need is interactivity. Events need stories, systems need interactivity.

The means of non-narrative journalism that has been use most extensively is data visualisation. We are all becoming familiar with mind maps, visual hills, word clouds and heat maps. But Trippenbach says we can take non-narrative journalism further by allowing consumers to manipulate data to produce different outcomes so that we can better understand systems like climate change or the class system.

One way we can interact with data and systems is by turning them into a game. Another speaker Alex Fleetwood, of social gaming maker Hide&Seek demonstrated a practical example of this with Scoop! a role playing game about newsgathering in which teams of newshounds chased fictional politicians during a mock general election. Fleetwood says that Scoop helps people understand “the games” of media and politics by allowing them to take on role of the journalist or politician.

Of course, stories are still useful – all Trippenbach is saying is they are only one part of a journalist’s armory. Trippenbach says that while stories may not explain climate change, they may be useful to tell the story of an African village and how it is affected by climate change.

Alastair Dent, the lead interactive technologist at the Guardian, points out that game apps on smart phones are much more popular than news apps. He suggests that a successful business model might be to integrate the world of gaming with the world of journalism. I will look forward to seeing whether he, or anyone else, can come up with a way of doing this.

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