Storytelling Insight

Storytelling Solutions for a Better Journalism

My Clwstwr research into news storytelling has brought up lots of questions about the effectiveness of the “inverted pyramid” style of writing that puts all the key information at the top of the story. There are conflicting theories on how and why it was adopted, but the change certainly happened around the development of the telegraph in the mid 19th century. It may have been that, because the telegraph was expensive and occasionally unreliable, it was important to make sure that key information was prioritised. The telegraph certainly had a profound effect on the way news was delivered, and indeed we still describe news agencies like Associated Press or Reuters as “wire services”.

Until then though, journalism was delivered in the same way as, say, fairy tales — starting at the beginning, “Once upon a time…” and proceeding to the end, where the actual “news” was often to be found. Ask a journalist now why they write the way you do, and you’ll often be met with a blank stare — the unspoken answer being, “That’s just the way we do it.” However it’s worth remembering that the flip from the linear to inverted writing style was itself seen as a revolutionary departure in itself in the mid 19th century.

This change in writing style was clearly a response to a fundamental change in delivery technology, but we have recently experienced perhaps the biggest change in delivery technology that there will ever be — with the advent of the internet, and the technical, social and cultural transformation that has followed.. Why then has the way we package news not responded to that enormous change? Astonishingly, producers of online news largely accept that readers will only read their stories for a matter of seconds and “high” engagement in a “news journey” is regarded as anything more than 2 minutes.

Surely we have to ask if the inverted pyramid is still fit for purpose, and indeed the even more fundamental question of whether the “article” itself is the most appropriate form for news in the 21st century and beyond.

Much of my work is looking at how best to utilise “modules” of information that can be repurposed in a variety of different ways, to match the needs and preferences of the user.

As part of the process of reimagining how we might do journalism, I worked with the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling at the University of South Wales to look at what we might learn from traditional storytelling techniques, and how they might be applied to journalism. We ran a workshop which brought together storytellers of different stripes, journalists, technologists and students to share experience, analysis and insight to help us learn more about how we might rethink news storytelling in a progressive and engaging way.

  • Discussion of traditional forms of storytelling and potential applications to journalism
  • Headlines — what are they for, what are they do, can we do them better?
  • Story Writing — experiments in writing news differently
  • Analysis of experiments — lessons learned

Has this sparked ideas for you?

Do get in touch if you want to pick up on any of these thoughts.