Telling stories in the digital age (@jdblundell)

For several years after I graduated college I worked in a newsroom — as the editor of two small-town newspapers and as a senior reporter for a semi-larger daily paper.

In those days, I saw the ups and downs of the printed newspaper.

I saw how static the print publication was — especially when I made a mistake — and I saw how management continued to fight the decline in readership.

As I transitioned out of the print media and into a different careers, I started to see more and more how the digital world was shaping our lives and ultimately our stories.

Now while I always had generous publishers and editors, the digital world has changed so much for reporting and storytelling.

No longer is Jane Reporter left to report on what Corporate America believes readers want. No longer is Joe Journalist forced to cover stories just for shock value.

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Instead, everyday citizens can now share the stories that matter, without the direction, limitations or restrictions of upper management. Everyday citizens can now share what they’re passionate about without needing the approval of a fading publishing house.

I’ve discovered this to be true through my own blogs, my podcast, videos on YouTube and my self-published novel.

Each time I hit publish, it’s me making the decision to publish the story. No editor or publisher that’s responsible to shareholders or subscribers — just me.

Now granted, that puts a lot more responsibility on the storyteller — but it also opens a whole new world of storytelling freedom.

And what’s so amazing about this new storytelling freedom is anyone can take advantage of it.

Mark Horvath (@hardlynormal), who tells the stories of the under-resourced and homeless across America at invisiblepeople.tv is often credited for his amazing use of social media to share stories.

He’s always quick to point out that he didn’t seek out to become a social media expert, he just started using social media to tell stories because it was free.

For those who don’t realize it, most of our smartphones now give us the ability to essentially carry an entire broadcast truck in our pocket.

Neal Augenstein, a reporter for WTOP in Washington, DC was the first (known) reporter to use his iPhone as his primary field recording and production device in 2010.

He wrote in a tribute to Steve Jobs, shortly after his death last year:

…The laptop, digital recorders, microphones, cables, video and still camera I used to schlep have been retired. No more carrying heavy equipment, waiting for a laptop to boot-up, or transferring files from a recorder to an editing device.

Now when I leave the relative peace and convenience of the newsroom, my tools to cover news in the nation’s capital are an iPhone, iPad, and charger.

With countless apps for each of the major operating systems, we can now write and publish our own web-zines, shoot and edit HD video, record and edit high quality audio, broadcast live to the Interwebs, hold live video chats and more all from the palm of our hand.

We’re no longer dependent upon a high-dollar broadcast antenna to share our stories with the world. And with this technology available to us, the big questions are no longer, how can I afford to tell this story, the questions simply become “Who, what, when, where and why?”

To help you get started, here are a few apps I’ve used to help share stories in the digital age:

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*These are all iOS based apps. Not all will be available on all mobile operating systems, but there are definitely numerous ones with the same functionality.

  • Video recording: I use the built in camera function for shooting video. My phone shoots HD and the mic on the phone is often better than the internal or external mic on my Canon 7D. For best quality, be sure you have good lighting and good sound quality. Often a $30 external mic will go a long way to improve your quality.
  • Video editing: An easy go to option is iMovie. It costs $5 but the simplicity is worth it. There are a number of other options that give you more flexibility if needed, but I’ve found for quick videos on the go, iMovie gets the job done. 1st Video is another great app from the same company that makes VC Audio Pro (see below) but it’s double the price of iMovie at $10.
  • Live video streaming: Ustream seems to have the best option for this at the moment. Justin.tv and Livestream.tv also have apps for viewing streaming but they don’t have dedicated apps for broadcasting as of my last check. I highly recommend you do this via a strong Wi-Fi signal for best results, but I’ve had decent results even with 3G.
  • Video publishing: YouTube is the reigning king of video and most mobile devices will allow you to easily publish your raw or edited videos to the site. Vimeo.com is sweet as well but it takes a bit longer to process and your limited on how much you can upload per week on their free accounts. But even for short clips, you can always publish to your favorite social media network and have built-in viewers ready to go.
  • Photo editing: Snapseed is quickly becoming my favorite photo editor for iOS at Darren Rowse and my wife’s suggestion. It makes improving photos “a snap.” Which can then be included in a video, a blog post, Instagram or elsewhere.
  • Audio recording: Depending on the end goal, I go back and forth between iTalk and VC Audio Pro. iTalk is easy to use and I can get the audio via iTunes on my desktop. But VC Audio Pro will allow me to edit multiple tracks and then share the file to Soundcloud or via my web browser or email.
  • Audio editing: I typically turn to VC Audio Pro for multi-track audio editing, but occasionally I will use Garage Band as well. Garage Band is typically geared more towards editing music, but I’ve found it does a decent job at quick audio trims in a pinch. For folks who are used to Garage Band on their Mac, it might have a lower learning curve.

Once you figure out your means and medium for storytelling, it just comes down to finding your stories. And perhaps surprisingly, there are stories all around us — everyone has one — including yourself.

If you’re not sure how to get started, find your subject, ask for an interview and then press record and start asking questions.

Once people are comfortable with you, they’re usually more than willing to share their story.

People matter to God and so people should matter to us.

And if people matter to us, their stories should matter to us as well.

Because when we listen and share the stories of one another, our understanding for one another will become even greater and will be active participants in ushering in the Kingdom of Welcome to the world around us.

As an added bonus, StoryCorps has a great question generator to get you started with each interview.

About Jonathan D. Blundell

Jonathan Blundell is a husband, father, blogger, podcaster, author and media geek who is hoping to live a simple life and follow The Way. You can find him and links to his numerous projects at jdblundell.com or follow him on Twitter: @jdblundell or circle him on G+.