Empowering local news with visual storytelling

Resources may be tight and time in short supply, but for local news publishers there is an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with readers by telling stories in a more compelling, meaningful way.

It is about putting the story first. Can you tell your story better with a more visually-rich experience? Will the story have more meaning and impact if it is delivered in an immersive way? Would interactive elements help aid the reader's understanding of an issue?

To offer some inspiration, and to mark Local Newspaper Week, we've collected together ideas for how local publishers in particular can create media-rich, engaging experiences that offer a bigger picture for readers, greater context and a quality that reflects the value of their reader's time – inspired by those already doing just that with Shorthand.

Not all the examples given below are from local newspapers, but they all offer great inspiration for what's possible for all storytellers. Big or small.

Break down local data and politics

The local press plays a vital role in digging into data of public interest, and helping to explain it to the general public.

Sometimes a chart is enough, but often there is a bigger story to tell around that data, and bringing together text, visuals and charts will provide the most comprehensive narrative for the public.

Following last year's Independence Referendum, for example, The Scotsman published an in-depth story covering the events from start to finish.

The Results chapter, in particular, is a great example of how visual storytelling can be used to deliver greater context, with regions on the map highlighted based on the vote, as the reader scrolls.

Not only does this act as a geographical explainer, but it delivers that as part of the narrative, and at the reader's own pace, keeping them in control and not feeling like they've been left behind.

Go more in-depth on human stories

When you have a more visual treatment available to you, it enables you to share human stories in a more powerful and personal way.

This can also be a great opportunity to let the visuals lead the narrative. Rather than compiling a gallery of dozens of images, consider which ones tell a key part of the narrative and let them stand alone, full-screen (or with text that offers essential context).

As the Hillsborough Inquest reported its findings last month, the Liverpool Echo published 96 Candles Burn Bright, a collection of stories that consisted of 96 full-screen images of each man, woman and child that died.

Beyond an initial introduction, the only text in the stories were the tributes from the families of the 96.

Round-up sporting seasons

Across all sports, each season and tournament brings with it a treasure trove of stories: from 'will they, won't they' predictions to the players that surprise and inspire.

Bringing that together as a fluid narrative can be challenging, but visual storytelling can help create an easy-to-follow structure, that engages the reader at each turn.

In Blue Moon Rising, for example, Manchester Evening News assess Manchester City's Premier League win in 2014 from all angles, with an in-story navigation guiding the reader through each step of the journey.

They have also used visual storytelling to focus on particular players or managers, such as their verdict on Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal in 2015.

Bring the local music scene to life

If you missed a concert, how would you rather catch up? Read a piece of text, or see the atmosphere, hear the music, watch the performance?

Visuals and the arts go hand-in-hand, so multimedia storytelling is ideal for taking coverage of a local music scene to another level.

That might be to reminisce about a recent music event, like The Austin Statesman does in ACL Festival 2015.

It could also be an engaging way to share details of upcoming events, like the Statesman's 2016 Festival Guide.

Bring readers closer to their local heroes

Visual storytelling can be used to provide a wider window into the world of a local hero, and give well-deserved space to their story.

In turn you are also rewarding your reader with something special, about someone special to them and/or the community.

That might be a sporting hero, for example. When Steven Gerrard left Liverpool Football Club, the Liverpool Echo delivered his 'thank you' letter to fans in a Shorthand story.

This meant it could be punctuated with striking photos of him in action on the pitch, and a glimpse back to his early days – adding colour to the words of the letter, and extra value for the reader.

Work with and promote local businesses

Whether straightforward advertorial-style, or sponsored stories on subjects that matter to the community, this format and the resulting engagement is also proving of value to brands, and this presents a great opportunity for local publishers.

The Irish Independent's Storyplus division, for example, has created a number of stories with Shorthand, such as this tour of the Lakelands.

The story offers a series of suggested trips, with a photo-rich layout including numerous Instagram posts from the wider community.

Offer context on historical events

When a local community is in the spotlight of a news event, such as a natural disaster, there are often multiple angles to be covered by local press, resulting in an array of coverage.

It is quite common, when anniversaries of the event occur, to want to help the reader look back at the events from start to finish. This is where visual storytelling can be used to both put a spotlight on the key visuals from the archives, but also give contrast to the current day.

In early 2015, for example, Get Surrey looked back at the floods of 2013/2014 in Surrey Submerged.

As well as creating a well-structured narrative remembering the events as they occurred, they also used techniques such as the Reveal effect in Shorthand to compare the river level then and now.

Reveal what the local area has to offer

Visual storytelling and travel journalism are the perfect match, and for local news outlets the travelling doesn't have to be to far-away places. Immerse your reader in local woodlands, parks and high streets, with rich photography that places your reader in the heart of the place – and flaunts the area to outsiders too.

See SRF's in-depth story on the Swiss National Park, for example, which also includes a ThingLink interactive so you can dig deeper into different parts of the map.

Bring together coverage in one place

When there is a big event taking place locally, from a festival to an airshow, there is often a challenge in bringing together coverage into a single narrative. In a way that flows well and offers something new to the reader.

When The Great North Run was held in 2014, it was due to reach the million mark for runners completing the challenge, so The Chronicle planned a special feature to cover the history of the run, as well as the current events.

In One Million Stories, the Chronicle builds up the narrative from past to present, with beautiful slow-motion video used to share the atmosphere in each chapter heading.

The story also used the Reveal feature to compare the typical runner of 1981 and 2014, as well as Shorthand's Scrollmation feature to introduce the movement of the runners across the screen as the reader scrolls.

Other immersive tools are also embedded, including a timeline to document the evolution of the event and an interactive panorama at the end.

Sometimes outlets want to look back on more than a single news event. At the end of each year, for example, many news organisations reflect on the headlines of the past 12 months in a round-up style story.

At the end of 2015, RTE used to Shorthand to compile Faces of 2015, which revisited the big stories of the year, and those at the heart of them. Again, the structure of the story offered a clear journey through the year for the reader to follow, with full-screen chapter headings signalling the next headline ahead.

Give space to in-depth investigations

When you have invested time and resource into an investigation, it makes such a difference if you can give the treatment of that story the same consideration.

That might be about giving it the space it needs. Both in terms of the length of the story, as well as the ability for it to shine full-screen. But it is also about considering how best to communicate each part of your narrative. Be it video, image, interactive. Again: it is all about putting the story first.

Fjellet som trugar, a story created by Norwegian newspaper Sunnmorsposten, investigates the risk of a landslide, and resulting tsunami, at a group of mountains in Møre og Romsdal.

The narrative is enhanced with a series of Reveals to highlight the areas at risk, essentially drawn on as the reader scrolls.

The rest of the story features video, graphics, text, and photography, to take the reader deeper into the issue.

The story was given an honorable mention at an awards event held by parent company Polaris Media earlier this year, and is a fantastic example of using interactivity to add depth to your storytelling.

Thank your readers

When Manchester Dogs Home was devastated by fire in 2014, the Manchester Evening News launched a campaign which raised more than £1 million to help care for the rescued animals and rebuild the shelter.

To thank their readers for their generosity, the MEN put together this story with Shorthand, showing what the donations and efforts were helping to achieve.

While the decision on when to use a media-rich treatment like this should come down to how the story is best told, it is also a valuable way to build your relationship with your readers by providing them with a quality experience.

If your readers feel invested in, they are more likely to invest in you with their time and loyalty.

So if it is best for the story and best for your reader, it is probably time to start experimenting.

Interested in learning more about visual storytelling?

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