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SIGCIS 2012 Workshop, Parallel Session II: Dissertation Session
Name: Sally Deffor
1. How do and might this platform facilitate new forms of creative news writing? (In other words, how differently are news stories being written/told and how differently could this be done using this new platform?)
2. What is the rate of adaption of news storytellers to technological changes, how is such adaptation occurring and how might this adaptation/innovation be better managed?
3. How are news providers' matching their story telling techniques with the different segments of the audience?
4. What are some of the potentials that the new storytelling techniques offer in terms of increasing the level of attention given to the details of the news rather than just the headlines?
Meanwhile, Kutsky and Widholm (2008:84) find in (Kopper et al. 2000, 449) that, as online journalism was a 'very new and very fast developing branch of journalism' most research was and still is lagging behind. Earlier on, I pointed out why it has become imperative that news writers better engage audience attention to their news stories. Due to these reasons, this study will significantly contribute to documenting what works (or not), and why, thus possibly becoming a reference guide to digital news storytellers especially those from emerging technological contexts, as well as a valuable piece of in-depth academic research. The fact that I am employing the use of case studies here also gives me the advantage to narrow down and concentrate attention on specific pieces. The case studies in themselves i.e. the BBC and the SABC are good pieces to study, as no previous study has looked at these two together before with this amount of depth and scope in the domain of digital news storytelling. The BBC news website is one of the most accessed news sites in the developed world and the SABC's is its equivalent from a developing context. With looking at the SABC in particular, this study presents an opportunity to carryout a research in a context that would otherwise not have been done (or resourced) at all. A reason for saying this is that there appears to be inadequate available related literature from this context as compared to those on counterpart media institutions from the west. With the BBC also, it presents a good case that it is studied together with another multi-platform media institution from a not-so similar technological context. Even though this is not a comparative study, jointly studying these two cases will bring to light new perspectives which could be valuable for future explorative studies.
As the world becomes more digitized however, the forms of storytelling too have gone digital. Tan and Mei (2011:608) point out that 'human communication has undergone four processes of spoken and written language communication, print communication, electronic communication and digital communication'. We are now in the era of digital communication where we are experiencing an ever-accelerating rate of change in the platforms that are used to tell stories. Czarnecki (2009:5) again contends that with the emergence of widespread personal computing and the Internet, the relationship between storytelling and technology has transformed such that where technology was previously a tool that could be utilized to reach a wider audience, it has now become a deeply integrated part of the storytelling process and the story itself. Thus, it has become a tool which is useful not only in telling stories in various different ways, but which could also be used to reach particular audience types in specific ways.
What do we mean by digital media and what is this interaction with storytelling? Digital media, simply put is digitized content that can be transmitted over computer and Internet networks . Tan and Mei (2011:608), reveal that it offers benefits to journalism which transcend those of the era of radio and television. With regards to the issue of what role digital technology is playing in the telling of news stories however, little appears to be written on the subject. This is surprising since news stories in general, and digital news in particular seem to rely heavily on the act of storytelling. Most researchers seem to agree that even with technology, the ability to tell a good story is still paramount. Czarnecki says that 'while going digital may require the storyteller to innovate technologically, the basic principles of how to tell a story remains unchanged' (2009:7). Tom Hallman, a Pulitzer award-winning journalist recognizes that irrespective of the medium being used, news writers must be excellent storytellers (2007:1). Not all researchers argue from this viewpoint, not surprisingly. Marshall McLuhan in his famous works arising from the book The Medium is the Massage contends that the mediums are the messages in themselves not the contents of the medium. However, McLuhan's work was limited to electronic media and my study as well as several before has been opportunities to debate this assertion from the point view of the digital media platform.
Nonetheless, as noted earlier, new technologies in themselves can help in the telling of better stories. This study will attempt to discover how these are done, at what rate news providers are capitalizing on these, and how these new knowledge/techniques are being managed given what is at stake now with regards to capturing audience attention and sustaining it. Hurlburt and Voas agree that new modalities of storytelling are becoming necessary given the flooding of our airwaves with non-stop digitized data (2011:5). Hallman discovers that readership of the news is on the decline (2007:1), and so how to structure the news so that it achieves this level of audience engagement has become crucial. It has also become essential that news providers are better able to manage these new techniques in order to reap the benefits that the platform offers. Zerba (2008:94) affirms that a reason for tuning out could be the readability of these stories. The formats, layouts and generally the ways in which news stories are presented must match the various segments of the audience and encourage a greater attention to the details thus preventing skimming. Hallman maintains that the storyteller can and must employ a multitude of tools to take the reader/viewer on a journey, given the nature of the Web (2007:1). How well a particular news provider is utilizing the new platform will influence how well its news is received. This study will make significant inroads into discovering how this is done; at what rate news providers are adapting and how best they could be managing these new techniques in order to optimize their potentials.
The knowledge and insight gained from this phase will set the stage for the qualitative investigations to be undertaken employing the use of discourse analysis. Discourse analysis explores the ways we ascribe or derive meanings from texts, and will be useful to determine how differently (or not) news stories are being told. The specific texts and discourse analysis method to be applied in each case will be deduced from findings from the first phase investigations. Phase 1 activities would also inform how I design 1) survey instruments to undertake semi-structured interviews of selected news providers in order to investigate such things as current adaptation and management processes relating to digital storytelling innovation; 2) my newsroom observation activities and 3) online survey of a sample of the audience to help assess the ability of the new storytelling techniques to increase attention of audiences to the main body of the news. I would carryout these combinations of qualitative processes to measure the rate and mode of the adaptation of news storytellers to the changing platform, and the effectiveness or otherwise of current innovation management processes. Ostbye et al conclude that 'qualitative interviews are conducted with the intent to analyze the strategies and actions of media players in the wider perspectives of media production, policy formulation or industry phenomena, conflicts and changes' (2002:99).
Kautsky and Widholm (2008:84) find that, "news websites are not simply digital versions of newspapers but a fusion of radio, television and traditional print media' hence the need to analyze multiple content forms. Most researchers seem to suggest that the web does pose problems for researchers seeking to analyze digital media texts; in addition to this, Chincor et al point out that only a few studies have been carried out that do an analysis of mixed-media forms, (2010:53). Due to this, the challenges to do with the scope of content forms being analyzed coupled with the complexity of the methods employed are dully acknowledged here. As already mentioned, the case studies are an integral part of this study. In order to achieve the stated objectives, this study would be contextualised through case studies of two media institutions of a hybrid nature, which would allow for a deeper investigation of the changing digital platform and the ways in which technological innovation is managed within them. The UK's BBC and South Africa's SABC would be used for this purpose. Additionally, relevant web blogs and podcasts outside these two would also be investigated.
Outline of proposed research programme