Laying a Foundation

A journalist is, in many ways, an information architect. Journalists must regularly wade through complex information and find ways to make it easy to understand and accessible to mass audiences. Journalists tell stories that reflect the state of humanity. They help people connect with a story’s subjects. And through this work, journalists strive to provide audiences with a greater sense of understanding and awareness of the world around them.

Multimedia journalists must be able to create all multimedia content types on at least a basic level. And as the multimedia journalist migrates from one story form and back again, she must understand the differences among them, as well as they ways in which each achieves those foundational approaches to storytelling. In other words, although all stories require a solid storyline, good sources, and balanced reporting, the ways we achieve those goals in practice and presentation are slightly different, depending on the story form.

Regardless of which form of storytelling you gravitate toward–writing, photography, videography, audio, or information graphics–there are a few skills that apply to all journalistic efforts. We address how solid research and good interviews establish the basis for your narrative. We examine the importance of focusing your story. And we discuss some ethical considerations that are particularly salient in the digital world.

Topics Covered

Journalistic research
The world is full of sources, and well-rounded stories make use of more than one. With the Internet at our fingertips, journalists have more access to many different types of resources than ever before. At the same time, there is a wealth of information out there, and not all of it is good. It is the journalist’s responsibility to vet all sources for credibility, consult a variety of sources to ensure all sides of a story are told, and avoid sources that distort the truth or provide fraudulent information.

Narrowing it down
Whether your sources come from print materials, websites, or individual experts, your primary goal is to draw on the most up-to-date, accurate, and credible information. When conducting research keep in mind the value of print and electronic sources. Books, periodicals, published reports, and other types of printed publications are often great sources of information because you can generally rest assured that they were subject to review. And with search engines like Google and Yahoo!, you can simply type in the word or topic you are interested in, and, voila, hundreds of potential sources at your fingertips.

Finding your focus
Good journalists understand the difference between a topic and a story. Topics are nothing more than general categories, while stories are precisely focused. The editing process is a very complex balancing act between finding a tight angle and telling a full story.

Interviewing is truly an art form. And each of your subjects will likely have different personalities and different thresholds for opening up to a reporter. The interviewer should, therefore, assess each interview scenario individually, adapt to each subject’s personality, and put interviewees at ease so that they feel comfortable during the process.

Developing a narrative arc
The narrative arc concept is present in many forms of storytelling, from cinema to literature. It is a dramatic progression that is composed of a beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning, significance and focus are established. Then, as facts unfold and the story comes to light, the audience begins to understand why it should care about the story and its characters. In the end, conflict is resolved or answers are given that help lend closure to the storyline.

Digital Journalism Ethics & Law
Journalism rests on the foundation of a few key principles: obligation to the truth, loyalty to citizens, discipline for verification, and responsibility to present fair and balanced coverage. And perhaps the most important rule for any journalist is never to alter the meaning of information provided by your sources. There are a few key ethical and legal concepts that all journalists should understand, from libel, to copyright.

Transitioning to specific skills
Although different organizations may approach the concept of multimedia storytelling from slightly varying perspectives, the qualities of a good story endure. A good story has a clear narrative arc, a powerful human focus that helps audiences connect with issues and individuals, multiple perspectives, vibrant scene setting, and easy-to-understand contextual references. A good story transcends the medium used to present it.