True digital storytelling needs a flexible publishing platform

June 13, 2018 – 3 min. read

The anatomy of stories has evolved from text-heavy articles to highly visual and multimedia storytelling. It’s time to accordingly change the anatomy of publishing platforms.

The classic news story structure of a headline, subhead, image, and a long body of text is outdated... At least when it comes to digital storytelling.

Digital storytelling is rich with images, videos, social media embeds, and graphics in no particular order throughout the story. Some people call it visual storytelling. News designer, Dr. Mario Garcia calls it linear visual storytelling. “The strategy is to combine text and visual assets together. You read, you see. This is the opposite of how we consume information in print, where we first see, then usually we read,” Dr. Garcia writes on his blog.

However, many publishing platforms and content management systems still have these very fixed story fields for headline, image, and body text — making it hard to give content creators the creative freedom they need in order to produce true digital storytelling. We have changed that.

Breaking up the anatomy of a story

In the video above, from Digital Innovators Summit 2018, you can see Mark van de Kamp's (previously CEO of our subsidiary Escenic, now CIO of Stibo DX) introduction to our concept of story elements.

According to van de Kamp, the transition from traditional storytelling to digital storytelling has changed the anatomy of a story. “The traditional way we think of storytelling in a newsroom and in our editorial tools is to look at a story separate from the illustrations. One person writes the story as full text, while another person may 'spice it up' by adding some images or social media embeds. In some newsrooms this activity even has a specific name, digital enrichment, which again suggests a strict separation between story creation and adding embeds,” van de Kamp says.

But if you look at the digital stories that are being created now to drive audience engagement, an increasing amount of multimedia elements are being added to the stories. Images, videos, and social media embeds are actually becoming the narrative of the story. These highly visual elements play just as big a part in telling the story as text paragraphs do. And in long-form content, such as the typical ‘snowfall’ example of scrolling and highly interactive stories, there is simply no sense of a central piece that you can call the body text anymore.

A stack of atomic elements

“So instead of having these very fixed headline, photo, and body fields for your story in a content management system, we propose working in a CMS that considers a story as a stack of atomic elements. These elements can really be anything from visual elements to text paragraphs. But each paragraph and each visual element is its own entity, which can easily be moved around and recombined in numerous ways depending on which platform the story would be published to,” van de Kamp explains.

As Carolyn Morgan, a Digital Strategist and Founder of Penmaen Media, expressed in a blog post, this allows for easy repackaging: “To make it easier to repackage stories for multiple channels, publishers are breaking them down into smaller pieces, which can then be tagged and archived before being recombined for new platforms [...]. Escenic (now Stibo DX, ed.) has developed a CMS, CUE, that allows content to be tagged in individual elements and then reassembled for mobile-friendly formats.”

In Mark van de Kamp’s own words, CUE has “a very open and flexible text editor where journalists and editors have the freedom to combine story elements exactly how they want and produce the true digital storytelling that drives audience engagement.”