The students of our Digital Storytelling postgraduate at KASK School of Arts had a lecture by Anjali Ramachandran, director at Storythings content studio. She's a co-founder of Ada's List, a global network of women in tech, who want to see each other succeed. She also curates the Other Valleys newsletter, in which she brings stories from outside the Anglo-American influence sphere that the regular media doesn't cover. At the lecture, she talked about how media and people their attention span has changed over time, how structure and emotion are key in storytelling and showed some examples made by Storythings.
Article and header picture by Helena Verheye, content marketer and final editor at Chase
Storythings was created in 2011, Anjali joined in 2016 and became a Director in 2018. She has a background working in Nike India, was a Strategist at Made by Many, a digital innovation studio and Head of Innovation at media agency PHD UK. At Storythings, she combines where she has been so far, as the company is interested in how people tell stories, how audiences behave and how this has changed over time. They cover topics such as gender inclusion in the workplace, how climate change is becoming a big part of our lives or how people's identities are shaped by where they come from. Among their clients are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, Pearson, YouTube, and BBC. Questions such as "Why is storytelling important?" and "How will you get people to remember your story?" touch upon the core of their mission.
"Two main innovations have changed the media in the past two centuries and a third one is on its way", said Anjali in her lecture. "In the 19th century, the one-way 'schedule' concept emerged. Meaning that what the media said they would broadcast is what everyone would see. In the last decade, a new concept has emerged, called the interactive 'stream', used for example by Twitter and Facebook in the news feed. The stream is personalized, mobile, decontextualized and endless and therefore fuels the fear of missing out. The stream has changed how we produce, discover and monetize stories so learning how to tell stories that will be circulated in streams instead of distributed in schedules, is a key skill."
However, some problems occur according to Anjali. "Optimizing content for algorithms makes it harder to stand out. The stream is great for reach but bad for profits. Another thing is that platforms have your data and the only way to have ownership over your data is to bring the audience to you. Fake news is also enforced because the stream removes context and amplifies emotional signals."
According to Anjali, we're now moving towards a third step: "At Storythings we believe that we're now moving towards the era of 'series', in which people will spend more time with your content. Think about live-streaming, console gaming, binge TV and podcasts for very specific niche audiences." This is good news if you want to cover complex issues, as before it was hard to communicate in-depth in 1 minute. "If you want to explore the grey zones of your story instead of bringing a black and white one, you will have to take your time."
So how do they go about at Storythings when creating a story? Spoiler alert: the actual story building comes last. First, they look at behavior and at what impact they want to have. Next thing is to think about audience segments and who they are targetting. The third step is to look at the context, so how and where their stories will connect. The final steps is to choose a format and build your actual story.
When telling a story, the emotion and the journey of the main character makes people more involved in the story. The brain likes to make order out of chaos, if you structure things, the brain will like it more and the story will be more comprehensible. Anjali: "If the story you want to bring doesn't have a story structure, you will need to create one as a journalist. No matter how boring the facts are, when you tell it in a story form, the momentum brings it to life."
Next thing to think about, according to Anjali: what is the moment of reflection that makes this story interesting? Take for example 'This American Life', NPR's most long-running show. The structure is always the same and can be written down on a napkin: they cover three different but related stories and afterward reflect on these three stories. Storythings also has this approach, they don't only publish interviews, but also a publishing report that puts the interviews in context.
All strategical schemes aside, the most valuable part according to Anjali is that you have to believe in radical change yourself, embed yourself with the communities that you want to cover and that you're passionate about the story that you want to tell. Let us know how it goes!
Eager to learn more about digital content? Stay informed for the next study year at our Chase Academy!