Hammers, Impressionists and Mobile Narratives for News

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Paul Watzlawick famously said: “When your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” It seems that simple, especially when it comes to reporting: the lions share of news and magazine stories are still presented in classic article templates. And even the dominance of mobile content consumption was not able to change that yet.

In 1841 a new manufacturing technique made it possible to produce tubes of paint which allowed artists of that time for a totally new experience. They could carry their paint with them and paint outside in the nature. This helped to give birth to the era of impressionism. This shows how a lot of times the tool literally has a great impact on the work we produce. So basically journalists need more “tools” in the box, right? Well …

Just to clear two things up – a) users still read plain text on mobile (like this blog post) and b) some more innovative narrative formats making use of the users capabilities and contexts are already being explored. But isn’t there room to create a whole range of new “tools” which would ultimately turn into new ways of stories being told?

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As part of the relaunch process of ZEIT Online we teamed up with their staff to develop new narrative formats. Altogether we were 24 journalists, product folks, developers, marketers and designers. When working with editorial teams we believe that change happens only in interdisciplinary teams considering the creation, presentation, distribution and monetization of content. 

For this occasion we created a bespoke “serious game” which helps with quickly slamming out narrative ideas in a fast rhythm. After exploring a bunch of ideas quickly, a few of them were drilled down and the teams prototyped these formats and developed first examples. We just took the classic pen and paper approach, or shot a quick video or sketched on our phones using Napkin and turned those into quick prototypes with Marvel. After the team presentations everyone involved was amazed at how fast you can prototype promising new formats!

Within the past weeks the ideas were iterated and the valuable feedback of the relaunch user panel unvealed a lot of things to tweak and refine.

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This weekend some of the brightest journalists in the German speaking countries come together for the 2015 Reporter Forum – a highly-respected self-organized conference. Together with ZEIT Online’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief Martin Kotynek we will be hosting a workshop to design new ways of storytelling on mobile

I am excited to work with and learn from the journalists attending to develop new narrative formats beyond the classic 500-words-article. Or as Watzlawik would translate: developing a whole toolbox to not have to use the “hammer” every time a story has to be told.

Full disclaimer: Napkin is a tool developed by our lovely former colleague Scott Savarie.