All good stories begin with a well-set scene, so allow me to set mine. I’m sitting by the window of a house in the woods, at the edge of the sapphire waters of the Salish Sea. A chorus of birdsong celebrates the daily miracle of the rising sun, glinting off the gentle, saltwater waves. A pair of herons float by on their way into the darker forest, to feed the hatchlings in their nest. Their shadows fall across a tiny white statue of Guan Yin, the female Buddha of infinite compassion, which is nestled into a mossy bank. As summer’s foliage unfolds in this garden, I am poised to watch you all grow and change as multimedia storytellers, using the publishing platform of Medium.com to master the art of narrative storytelling in a multimedia environment.
Welcome to Journalism 404. This online course at Western Washington University introduces you to the principles of narrative journalism. It offers you the opportunity to sharpen your verbal storytelling and technical skills to allow you deliver meaningful narrative journalism to a mobile audience on multiple platforms.
Narratives do not unfold in text alone. We are all multimedia storytellers, using written words, spoken words, links, apps, still photos, charts, graphs, maps, audio, video and other emerging technologies to tell meaningful stories to a sophisticated audience that has come to expect far more from journalistic narratives than just a block of text.
But many of the tools with which writing is taught at Western and elsewhere — Microsoft Word and the Canvas site that hosts this class — do not fully support the rich array of videos, maps, audio files and other multimedia elements. Wordpress has similar limitations.
The story you are reading right now has been composed on Medium, a publishing and social media platform developed by Twitter that is transforming the way writing is taught. Writing instructors in various departments at Western use Medium as an online portfolio to help students become accomplished multimedia storytellers.
Without access to a professional-grade publishing tool, journalism students might delude themselves into thinking that multimedia elements are somehow tangential to their storytelling — something that an editor or a web producer adds later, something that isn’t really essential to the task of conceptualizing, researching, reporting and writing a compelling piece of narrative journalism.
Online readers expect a lot: They want photos and video; they want maps and satellite images; they may prefer to listen to a podcast of your story while they walk, drive or exercise than actually read the words. They expect you to craft your words with skill and creativity; they expect to be able to comment about the issues you raise; they also expect you to add value to the story with a links to deep sources, providing context and opportunities for action. In a competitive job market, 21st-century professional communicators — in journalism and public relations — must develop the vocabulary and the skills to seamlessly integrate text and interactive elements into their narratives.
So, let’s get started.
Open a browser — Chrome and Safari work best. Go to Medium.com and create a user profile, including your photo and a brief bio. Help can be found in the drop-down menu under your profile photo. You’ll find that Medium is an intuitive writing platform that will allow you to accomplish great things with very little effort.
Acquaint yourself with the features of this site: Highlight a block of text and see a pop-up a menu of options to insert links and manipulate text with pull quotes and font choices. Click on your profile photo to reveal a list of editing tools and features, such as Stats, which tell you who has read the story — and who has merely glanced at it.The “applause” icon at the bottom of your story provides positive reader feedback . Many other features will become clear to you once you start using Medium as a writing tool.
Note: For the purposes of this class, Medium.com functions more like a notebook than a publishing platform. The stories you write for this class on Medium should be in draft form only. Do not hit the “publish” button.
There is no course requirement to publish your story on Medium. But once the course is concluded, if you are proud of your stories, you may want to share them with the world. That’s entirely up to you.
If you do choose to publish anything you write for this course on Medium, be aware that you alone are legally responsible for ensuring that your story is fact-checked, fair, balanced and that it meets the ethical and practical standards of journalism. If you cannot guarantee these things, do not publish your story.
J-404 is first and foremost a writing class, but writing in a multimedia environment requires thinking visually and interactively. If you worry that you don’t have the skills to produce compelling photos, videos and other online elements for your story, put that worry aside. You are digital natives, after all. Start with Google News Lab and learn how to create and embed a map related to your travel/adventure/discovery story.
Embedding a map or sattelite image is an easy first step to incorporate visuals into your travel/adventure/nature/discovery story. Note that you can change the size or placement of the image by clicking on the picture and choosing among four green icons that offer sizing choices. Other options for images include taking your own photos or finding rights-free images on Wikimedia, Creative Commons, NASA, NOAA or other government agencies. Remember to respect copyrights and to credit any image you embed.
You might create your own brief video on Tiktok and embed it as an animated lead image to set the tone of your piece. You might shoot videos in the field, upload them to YouTube and embed them in the narrative. You could create audio files — music, recorded interviews, a playlist or your own personal comments — on SoundCloud and embed the audio link in your narrative.
It’s all quite intuitive and creative. And it will change how you conceptualize and tell your stories. The Medium.com Help Center is a great source of information. But if you need extra help, reach out to me or to WWU’s Student Technology Center.
As the summer days unfold, I’ll be watching you from this woodland garden at the edge of the Salish Sea and wishing you all success in your multimedia narrative storytelling adventure!