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 Salish Sea. A chorus of birdsong celebrates the daily miracle of the rising sun, glinting off the saltwater waves. A pair of herons float by on their way into the darker forest. Their shadows sweep across a tiny white statue of Guan Yin, the Buddha of infinite compassion, nestled into a mossy bank in the garden. As the winter rains pelt the foliage, I sit by this window, reading and grading the stories you’ll be writing for Klipsun.
Narratives do not unfold in text alone. The digital era calls us to be multimedia storytellers, using text, spoken words, links, apps, animations, still photos, charts, graphs, maps, audio and video 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 — notably Microsoft Word, Wordpress and the Canvas site that hosts this class — do not fully support the rich array of multimedia elements.
As indicated in the syllabus for this class, instead of working in a Word doc, you will be composing your stories on Medium.com. You will use this publishing platform to master the art of narrative storytelling in a multimedia environment.
You might think that it’s not your job to put multimedia elements into your story — that these are things an editor or a web producer adds later. In fact, it’s an essential part of your storytelling.
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 and share your story with others. They also expect links to deep sources, providing context and opportunities for action.
So, let’s get started.
Open a browser — Chrome and Safari work best. Go to Medium.com and create a user profile, including a journalistically appropriate 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 Medium’s storytelling features: 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. You can insert comments on another person’s story by highlighting a relevant line of text. The “applause” icon at the bottom of your story allows you to voice your approval. Many other features will become clear to you once you start using Medium as a writing tool.
The importance of links
Research is a key element of any story you write for this class: it is just as important as human-source reporting. In addition to solid reporting and good storytelling, online readers expect links to deeper sources to provide context and opportunities for access. Each story you write for Klipsun should contain at least three hypertext links smoothly incorporated into the narrative.
Images, charts, graphs
You will be working with staff photographers to illustrate the stories you write for Klipsun. But there are visual or multimedia elements that you as a writer can provide: maps, charts, audio files, playlists, YouTube or TicToc videos, etc. Google News Lab can help you learn how to create and embed a map.
Example: Here’s a satellite view of where I am at the moment, reading your stories with interest at the edge of the Salish Sea. (I found this rights-free image on the NASA website.)
The Salish Sea, viewed from space (NASA photo)
Embedding a map or image is an easy first step to incorporate visuals into your 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, to your editors or to WWU’s Student Technology Center.
Submitting your stories for grading
Because Canvas does not support multimedia functions, submitting your story for grading is a two-step process. When you’re ready to submit your assignment in Canvas, copy and paste your Medium.com draft into the submission pane. In the “Comments” section, include a link to your Medium.com draft. That allows me to check the functionality of your multimedia elements.
Klipsun editors will decide whether your story and interactive elements meet their editorial needs. But if your story is not chosen for publication, once the course concludes you may want to share it with the world. That’s entirely up to you.
The stories you write for this class on Medium should be in draft form only. Do not hit the “publish” button.
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.