Building the Tools to Tell Stories That Matter

02 May 2014

Author: eric

Building the Tools to Tell Stories That Matter

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In our work with Charity Humanitarian Centre "Abkhazeti", an organization that works to improve the lives of internally displaced persons (IDPs) resulting from Georgia's many conflicts, we realized we needed to try a new kind of storytelling. Until now, we have worked by-and-large using data to create infographics, mostly static visualizations of socially relevant data. By telling stories using well designed charts which convey complex information in an intuitive and easy-to-consume way, we have made complex stories accessible to a larger audience. However, in this particular case, we felt that we needed to personalize the story. We needed to put a face on it.

That being said, we didn't want to limit ourselves to any particular medium. This is 2014 afterall. We are online. We can use prose for narration. We can use photography to capture a snapshot of life. We can use audio to impart the mood. We can use video to share the movement of life. We can convey complex concepts which we derive from data analysis using charts and graphs. And we can represent geographic distributions with maps. We can use all these things in any combination we choose. So why limit the story from the outset? By allowing the audience to experience a story of auditory and visual impressions, they can situate themselves a bit more in a world that might otherwise be completely foreign to them. And they might even take something away with them from the experience.

We were inspired and impressed by the New York Times story A Game of Shark and Minnow, and that inspiration motivated us to consider the possibility of replicating the process. A scrolling story of sound, photography, video, and textual narration, the article was beautiful and moving. Moreover, it was within our capability to replicate the style and underlying technology. Our designer, Irakli Chumburidze, who is also a fine photographer, was completely on board with the project. So was Anton Kamaryan, one of our web developers. As we discussed the concept in increasing depth, it became clear we would use this approach again and again in the future and a thought occurred to us that we should approach this differently. Why not create an easy to use content management system (CMS) that allows us to quickly and easily create these types of stories? And if we use such a CMS, why shouldn't others?

So we built StoryBuilder. It isn't anything super fancy yet, but it is fully-functional and now any journalist and storyteller can use it to tell scrolling mixed-media stories. Moreover, those stories aren't locked into the CMS. Anyone can create and then, if they so desire, export the story files and host them on any web-server they choose. Even more still, the entire application is open-source, and anyone, be it NGOs, journalists, activists, whoever, can set up their own public or internal StoryBuilder app, rebrand it, and use it at no cost.

We hope this is yet another tool that helps journalists in Georgia, but elsewhere too, tell innovative and engaging stories. But even it nobody else uses the tool, at least we will use it to tell many of our own stories, include the story of Georgian IDPs, in a more visceral, and hopefully, moving way.

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