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Video: The Most Empathetic Medium?

video, virtual reality, 360 video, empathy, nonprofit, video empathy, storytelling

It's long been said that video is the most empathetic medium. But, that was before virtual reality was a thing--and a relatively common thing at that. With virtual reality, we can actually place ourselves in the lives of others.

In October, StoryLab will be visiting Zambia to train PET New Lift Zambia Center how to use smartphones to tell stories, but also to help StoryUp Studios shoot a virtual reality film from the perspective of a disabled person who must crawl on the ground to get around.

Here's just a little something about the power of video, and the potential of virtual reality.


Virtual Reality Goes Mobile

virtual reality, 360 video, mobile VR, mobile, mobile virtual reality, google cardboard, storyup studios, oculus rift, sarah hill

Virtual Reality is going mobile

If you've never experienced virtual reality, you should make it a part of your own reality very soon. Recently, Sarah Hill of StoryUp Studios, a virtual reality production company, stopped by our office to show us some of the latest in VR, from Google Cardboard to Oculus Rift and a handful of headsets in between.

Although the experience of Oculus Rift is the gold standard of immersive video (I forgot I was in a room full of people. Skydiving in Norway seemed THAT real!), Google Cardboard makes VR accessible to the masses. For $20, you can buy a headset, or you can make one yourself for only a couple dollars.

“Cardboard aims at developing accessible virtual reality (VR) tools to allow everyone to enjoy VR in a simple, fun and natural way.”

Even at Mobile World Congress, virtual reality outshined the latest smartphones. Although there were some headsets that needed to be plugged into a PC to work (not very mobile at all, as The Verge says), many were phone-based, like Google Cardboard.

For example, Samsung showed off its latest version of Gear VR, which works with Samsung's Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. “It’s an improved version of the concept the company first introduced last fall, and it represents what may be the most likely way consumers will first experience modern VR systems,” Dan Seifert writes.

“The dominant way most consumers will experience virtual reality will be on mobile devices.”

“PCs and dedicated machines will always have more power, but at some point, graphics become ‘good enough’ on a mobile device and none of that matters anymore,” says Max Cohen, head of mobile at Oculus VR, the virtual reality startup bought by Facebook this year for $2 billion.

Of course, phones still have some shortcomings, from overheating to battery life and positional tracking. So, there are still things to work through, Cohen says.

“Will [VR's move to mobile] be in two years’ time? Five years? Ten? I don’t know. But it will happen. You can’t surpass the beauty of being untethered.”

We already know we can use our phones to tell amazing stories, but here's another way we can use our phones to consume amazing stories in an entirely new way.

The Use of Mobile-Made Content

video, smartphone, video smartphone, content marketing, mobile storytelling, videography, storytelling, audio, multimedia,

We’re experiencing a brave new (mobile-centric) world. One where cities are creating “slow lanes” for people too attached to their phones to walk down the street without looking at them. One where an increasing number of people are consuming news exclusively on their mobile phones (one in five claim it’s their primary access point, according to this Reuters study). One where companies everywhere are ditching mobile-compatible websites in favor of mobile-optimized sites. In this world, our mobile phones have become more important than ever.

How Mobile is your Content Creation?

At the beginning of this year, I had the opportunity to teach a three-part webinar series for the American Society of Business Publication Editors. The 60-70 attendees of each webinar included multimedia producers, writers, editors, creative directors, marketing managers and more. Here are the numbers behind who's already playing the mobile game, and who still has a ways to go.

Survey Says…

Attendees included multimedia producers, writers, editors, creative directors and marketing managers, more than half of whom already utilize mobile devices to create multimedia content sometimes. Of respondents not already doing so, more than half say they plan to start.

Respondents said they mostly use their Smartphones or tablets to take photos, with one quarter experimenting with video.

The vast majority said they plan to use their mobile device to create content that adds a web component to stories in print. Three quarters of respondents plan to use their mobile device for breaking news or live coverage and to drive social media engagement. More than 60 percent plan to create multimedia content on their mobile device to drive traffic to their website between publication cycles.

More than 60 percent of respondents also said they plan to use their mobile device to create multimedia content, despite having better devices available to them—little more than one third plan to use their Smartphone or tablet only when that’s all they have on hand.

StoryLab presents at the What If...? Conference

mobile storytelling, international relationships, storytelling, what if conference

On April 11, StoryLab founder Sarah Redohl spoke at the What If...? Conference at the University of Missouri. The conference aims to encourage social change by asking questions starting with What If...? Sarah's question was, "What if mobile storytelling democratizes a global narrative?"

Check out the full presentation here:

Here's the full transcript:

Before we dig in I wanted to ask who has their phone on their laps, in their hands, or otherwise, basically within reach. So, pretty much everybody. I want to say thank you, because chances are, you’re sharing what’s happening here today with the world. And that’s really amazing.


It’s hard to believe that the smartphones have been out for less than 10 years, but nearly everyone in this room has one. And this year, 2015, marks the year that more than ¼ of the world’s population will have a smartphone for the first time. That’s big news, because our smartphones are capable of so much more than checking the weather, Googling things and playing Trivia Crack? What if the stories we tell from our mobile phones could democratize a global narrative? To illustrate this, I’m going to take you on a short trip around the world.

In 2011, journalist Bruno Torturra was covering a series of protests in Brazil that turned ugly. He saw media crews covering the events from a distance in their vans. And that’s when he made the decision that the next time he would cover these protests, he would do so from within the fray. He wanted to share the raw experience of the event. And his livestreaming coverage was watched by more than 100,000 people.

From this, he created Media Ninja, a collective of experimental journalists all over Brazil who would share similar on-the-street style news. And that group grew to include hundreds of people, with a reach of more than 11 million timelines.

Across the Atlantic Ocean, a man named Ian Tomlinson died during the 2009 G-20 protests. He wasn’t a part of the protest. He was walking home from his job selling newspapers. The next day, the headline of one of the newspapers he’d spent 20 years read, “Police pelted with bricks as they help dying man.”

That’s what the official reports said. Within a week, video footage from a bystander’s cell phone proved this report to be false. It showed an officer hitting the man and pushing him to the ground.

Back in New York City this March, a smaller injustice occurred when a police officer lost his cool when pulling over an Uber driver. The passenger recorded the exchange, and the police officer was striped of his badge and gun and put on modified duty. Here’s one of my favorite commentaries on that event:

“[That officer] grew up in an era when creating video and 'broadcasting' it was something special, expensive and complicated. …60 Minutes did it, and you knew when 60 Minutes was recording. After all, they had a big crew of a dozen people, with lights and microphones, and Mike Wallace. …Now, the passenger in the back of the Uber taxi was Mike Wallace and his crew. Of course, all he had was an iPhone. It was all he needed. It is all anyone needs to become Mike Wallace.”—Michael Rosenblum

That’s from Michael Rosenblum. He trains field operatives from the United Nations’ Refugee Agency to shoot, edit and share videos using iPhones. Rosenblum knew that the operatives often begged the BBCs and CNNs of the world to send a reporter to show the world what has happening. And every once in awhile, a reporter would arrive, knowing very little about the situation, and produce a story. But Rosenblum also knew that the operatives knew the stories far more intimately than a journalist parachuting in for the day might be able to. And they were always there to cover the events.

These are just a handful of examples where, all around the world, people are using their smartphones to tell a more realistic narrative of events, crowdsource the truth, fight injustice, and tell stories worth telling.

These examples become the history of our existence—and that history is being catalogued from a wider variety of perspectives than ever before.

But there are some barriers that prevent mobile storytelling from reaching its full potential to impact our global narrative: lack of credibility; lack of access to the required tools, including devices, connectivity and training; and the difficulty of reaching a mass audience.

A journalist is someone who gathers, assesses, creates and presents news and information. That could be true of any of these situations. What makes a journalist different is the verification process and his or her newsroom’s credibility. So, how can an independent storyteller develop credibility?

Every minute, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube and nearly 5,000 photos are posted to Instagram, alone. Just since I stepped onstage, that means 1,600 hours of video and more than 25,000 photos. When there’s so much content to wade through, how can we find the good stuff and prove it to be true. Even journalists have a difficult time wading through what’s true and what isn’t. Just look at the coverage of Hurricane Sandy. How can the average consumer be expected to do so?

There’s also the issue of access to devices, connectivity and training. If ¼ of the world will have smartphones this year, that still leaves almost 5.5 billion people without the technology to share their own stories. Less than half of the world’s population—around 40 percent—has access to the Internet. Far smaller still is the group of people with the digital literacy to produce their own stories—more than brief snippets of video and snapshots, which can be effective—but also complete stories, context, credibility, and all.

In the past, our attention was monopolized by only a handful of networks. But platforms like YouTube have democratized attention, and now anyone can publish their own content and use social media platforms to distribute it. But the vast majority of people still rely on mass media for their news. Yes, anyone’s story can go viral, but that’s not something anyone can bank on. How can we close that last mile to people who aren’t information elites? Often, these stories gain traction through traditional media broadcasting user-generated content.                 

But a study in 2014 found that 75 percent of journalists—the people making the decisions as to what user-generated content to share—say they feel pressure to think about their story’s potential to garner more clicks and be shared on social media, which results in advertising revenue for their employer. In this age of journalism, many journalists are forced to think about ROI—return on investment. But when you’re too invested in ROI, we forget about another very important I-word: impact.

What’s really amazing about mobile storytelling is that peole are telling these stories without any financial incentive. People are sharing their stories every day, posting photos, videos and updates to social media every day. And we aren’t doing it for the money. We’re doing it for the joy of creating the thing. And maybe, if we point our phones in the right direction at the right time—and enable others to do so—we could change the world.

Thank you very much!

The Journalist V. The Content Marketer

journalist, content marketing, content, digital storytelling

On the first day of each semester, I ask my students to stand up and tell the class why they want to be a journalist. The answer I hear 90 percent of the time is, “I love to tell stories.”

Although predictable, I consider this is a verbal contract of their commitment to a good narrative—to sharing engaging information—whether they hope to work in a news outlet, an advertising agency, or somewhere else entirely.

This isn’t a lonely and personal sentiment. According to Joe Pulizzi, founder of Content Marketing Institute, as brands clamor for high-quality content, “the largest non-media companies on the planet will continue to fleece successful media companies of their journalists, editors and broadcasters.”

Journalism students often have natural storytelling skills.

If the non-media world is in fact pulling journalism students away from jobs as traditional journalists, where does this leave traditional journalism education, where one’s taught not even to accept a glass of water from a source, much less a job offer? How do we maintain the vital principles of journalism, while continuing to prepare students for this potential future?

In a recent article on PBS, the director of J-Lab Jan Schaffer argues the merits of journalism school as a “Gateway Degree.”

“It’s time to think about trumpeting a journalism degree as the ultimate Gateway Degree, one that can get you a job just about anywhere, except perhaps the International Space Station,” she writes. With skills in storytelling and digital media, Schaffer says journalism school grads are also attractive to businesses “seeking to build out journalism portfolios” (i.e. content marketing), as well as non-profits, information startups and the political arena.

But, perhaps Schaffer’s most poignant point is her urgent message for journalism schools to start showcasing alum who’ve succeeded in a new world of media, not only those succeeding in traditional news organizations.

Does this muddy the purist nature of journalism, to improve the world by informing, educating or entertaining? Maybe. But imagine a world where instead of being bombarded by anywhere between 3,000 and 20,000 marketing messages every day, we instead get to experience well-crafted stories?

In my opinion, I’d say that’s an improvement.