CAMP 2015: Storytelling in this century

By Camila Osorio, 2015 JAWS Fellow

(Photo by Beatriz Costa Lima)

Storytelling is at the heart of good journalism. But storytelling is changing: Snapchats, podcasts and interactive graphics have quickly entered 21st century-newsrooms. Katherine Lanpher, Al Jazeera America senior online features editor, organized a panel, “Storytelling in this Century,” at JAWS CAMP to encourage women to welcome these new narrative forms instead of fear them.

“Five seconds of  tape can help you understand the humanity of a person,” said Stephanie Foo, a producer at the radio show “This American Life,”  after playing a recording of the emotional voice of a woman who lost loved ones during Hurricane Katrina. Foo had these suggestions:

  • Don’t be afraid of experimenting. Foo started her radio career after launching her own personal radio experiment: her “‘Get Me On This American Life’” podcast. After five years, she was finally hired at her dream job.
  • Consult, a website with very simple directions on how to record, edit and produce high-quality audio.
  • Bring different talents to radio production. Some journalists consider that the “comeback” of radio is a hit against print journalism. But for Foo, good radio production requires excellent scriptwriters. “We are looking for people outside of radio” to do good radio, she said.

Lam Thuy Vo is the interactive editor for Al Jazeera America where she works on graphic, video and interactive stories. She said:

  • Multimedia journalists, like print journalists, should also start with the heart of the story: the quote or the character that moves them. A video should start with the most poetic shot you got.
  • Visual journalists should “write and rewrite” in the same way that print journalists do. Try different graphics until you find the best to illustrate your point.
  • To find the best platform through which to tell a story, Thuy Vo offered a simple graphic (check her website at

Panelist Amy O’Leary is the editorial director for Upworthy. “My whole career has been about answering one question: How can we get people’s attention into difficult topics?” she asked. After working for The New York Times for seven years, O’Leary said she decided to move to Upworthy to experiment with new narratives. Among them were these:

  • Experiment with the font of the text, adding photos and graphics of easy access for mobile. Journalists should not forget that many users are now getting their news through mobile devices.
  • Try to find the best narrative for each story. If you have a spreadsheet, think multimedia. Or if you have audio, think of radio. But don’t try to make every story a multimedia story. Although new platforms are hip right now, not all stories are about graphics, videos or podcasts. “Your strengths are your strengths,” O’Leary said. “If you are a beautiful writer, do that.”