Dorien tell us about innovation in digital storytelling and the inspiration that led to a career in journalism.
When did your passion for journalism start?
This is probably what every journalist will tell you, but I have always been a very curious person and I like to figure out issues or talk to other people to hear their story. My passion for digital journalism specifically started when I saw what was possible to do online. By reading Snowfall from The NYT and Firestorm by The Guardian, I was so impressed by how I fell into the story and was reading the chapters eagerly to know the end. Sound, video, images and text were used successfully to immerse the reader completely. That’s when a lightbulb switched on. I wanted to make that kind of stories and the rest is history.
Who inspired you to pursue a career in tech and digital?
If I go back to my core motivation, the person who inspired me the most was my mentor during my first work experience at a newsroom. I am still lucky to keep being inspired by him at my current job at De Tijd. Before that, I knew that I wanted to work as a digital journalist, but I had no clue how to become one or if I was the right fit for the job. His enthusiasm and support have meant a lot in my development as a digital storytelling producer.
Now, I am constantly interacting with other digital journalists to see how they are tackling challenges. The world wide network of journalists has become my biggest inspiration. We are all in it together, so I am glad we are tearing down those ego-walls that kept us from sharing ideas and teaming up. Recently I have been very interested to find out about how newspapers engage their audience in new ways.
For that reason, a big inspiration to me at the moment, is the Dutch news site De Correspondent. I am intrigued by how they build a community around their stories and news brand and I want to learn how I can create an ecosystem in which comment sections aren’t toxic waste where discussions are pushed backwards rather than forward. I want it to be a space where people can interact safely and where journalists can open themselves up to their readers and create a powerful interaction that touches one of the core values of journalism: supporting a democracy and informing the public.
How do you spot the white space in a story to capture a fresh angle especially across social channels?
A big part of it, hasn’t changed because of the technological developments. A good story still starts with a gut feeling. You hear, read or see something and immediately you want to know more about it. The ways you discover stories are more numerous, but that feeling you get when you are onto something is timeless.
The new part is after that. Starting from the story idea, you figure out the best way to tell it. Before, this was text and maybe a picture, but because so many formats, platforms and media are possible to reach and immerse your audience, it is ever more important that a journalist knows and thinks about these from the start. Pitching a story isn’t only explaining why it’s interesting, but also thinking through how you are going to tell it. It is often this part that many newsrooms are trying to stimulate among their journalist and are requiring from job applicants.
How would you define innovation?
Innovation is adopting to a changing environment. For newsrooms changes are happening on many different levels: monetisation, audience engagement, business model, storytelling, formats, platforms, tools, multimedia, and so on. There isn’t a domain left within the news industry that stayed untouched by technology. For a news company to keep existing, they have to acknowledge that one-size-fits-all doesn’t work anymore and that they have to innovate or die out.
How do you feel the news industry has responded to innovation?
It’s hard to talk about the news industry in general. Every continent seems to be adopting at a different pace and in a different direction. In Asia, news companies are investing a lot in messaging app, development for mobile has become more crucial. As far as I’ve seen, we’re all still searching and the disruption in our sector hasn’t finished yet. Where change before came mostly from startups, the more traditional media companies are now eager to innovate and are investing a lot. They know that they have to leave their comfortable model they used for decades and jump into the unknown. Still cautiously of course.
What are the biggest challenges that face the news industry?
Dealing with the decline of trust in media is a major issue worldwide. First of all, no matter what some politicians might say, journalists are NOT lying, misinforming and pushing people into certain directions. People should stop bashing media for their own political and ideological agenda. It is lazy politics, deflects from the real issues and it is hurting the root of our democracy. Secondly, journalists do have the task to be transparent about how they create a story, what sources they are using and how they judge information.
To avoid a further decline of trust, journalists need to be connected to their audience. The mass media model doesn’t exist anymore. Newsrooms have to connect with communities and be journalists for them. That means we also need to get to know our audience better. Like CUNY-professor Jeff Jarvis put it: ‘We need journalism for people, not for masses'. Journalists shouldn’t have to fear to interact with their audience online. However building a news eco-system online also asks of people not to act like kids cheering on a fight at the playground. A voting system to moderate comments by and for the community can work, as we see at Reddit and The Guardian, but if we don’t start behaving like adults online, we reap what we sow.
Journalists are busy people and are limited by technological issues that are time-consuming and inefficient. Content management systems that aren’t adapted to a new way of working are keeping us from doing our job. The time we should spend on gathering stories, being a watchdog and protecting the democracy is taken up by workflow issues that are demotivating, frustrating and in the end don’t give us the best result. Media companies should massively invest in their CMS now and not tomorrow to automate tedious tasks, make publication for different platforms and media (print, digital, mobile) effortless and make content creation on different devices possible. We need such a CMS beast and we need it now.
What's the most exciting part of your job at De Tijd?
As a Digital storytelling producer, I am at the forefront of digital innovation at our newsroom and that’s exactly the spot where I want to be. Not at the back, not in the middle, but at the front where all the exciting stuff is happening. We just received Snap’s Spectacles and I am already overflowing with ideas on how to use that first-person perspective effectively to tell a story. I can try out new formats, build stories from the ground up for different platforms and with different elements (video, data, audio) and new technology. This also means moving in the dark, which adds to the excitement.
Co-operation makes my job exciting as well. I can work on my own projects, but also on mid- and long term projects with a diverse team of journalists, developers and data journalists.
I am glad as well that the editor-in-chief at De Tijd gives me and other journalists the time and space to experiment and innovate. It is crucial that the urge to innovate and experiment is supported within the newsroom. Success stimulates innovation, but failing forward evenly gives important insights.
The new monetisation models for media and journalism, can you talk us through your ideas on this?
Advertisement online has little value. Therefor media are looking for new money streams and found that building a community around their brand could pay off massively. It is no longer about having the most readers, but about having the strongest community to build on. You see it in the monetisation model of De Correspondent, that only asks 60 euros for a one year membership and has no ads. A strong community also contributes to your editorial output as well. By generating productive debates in comment sections or building groups around certain topics, this can bring forward new stories or angles and puts the journalist back among the people on the ground, getting his/her hands dirty.
New digital formats and tech innovation are allowing journalists to tell stories in more immersive ways. What are your predictions for 2017/2018?
This will be the year, I hope we will focus on the user. We have made this promise last year and I hope we are keeping it. At the Digital Journalism Rocks group on Slack, I made the anti-prediction that we won’t find a solution for this problem and I still stand by that. However, I do hope we are finally shaken awake and aren’t blind to the growing need for our audience to communicate with us, journalists. Conversational journalism within messaging apps, supported by automation or Artificial intelligence can be a powerful tool to do this.
AR via smartphone. We’ve seen the Pokemon go hype last year and I am actually quite excited to see a news company adapt the AR form for news. I have never really seen big potential in actual virtual reality for news, as it is expensive to create and asks a lot from your reader to engage with it. I do think an AR layer on top of our world could hold interesting possibilities. Imagine passing by a manifestation and getting news notifications on why they are protesting or seeing a beautiful old building and getting to know the story behind it instantly.
If you had one piece of advice to offer some starting career in digital journalism, what would it be?
It is important more than ever to keep developing yourself throughout your career. The news industry is changing rapidly and so profoundly that, if you start to feel comfortable, you’re already behind. Of course there are core values and skills that won’t change. Being a good storyteller is key, but journalists have to be more involved in deciding how, where and to whom their story is told. You have to know what the possible formats are, what platforms are used to reach your audience, what style to use and rules to follow, and who you want to tell your story to. It is also important to lose the attitude a bit of being THE authority. A lot of senior journalists have build up credibility, but young journalists should be open to their audiences interacting with the story and with themselves as a journalist.
Which DNI Innovation Fund Project do you like the most and why?
I am very interested to see how Blendle is developing. People want to pay for good content, that is beyond dispute, but it has to be delivered to them effortlessly, beautifully and for a correct price. We saw it with Netflix for series and movies, Spotify for music and now Blendle for news. They are limited to news stories for now, but if they can offer media a way to monetise their bigger multimedia projects that often live outside of the paywall, they are killing two birds with one stone. Readers who want to engage with beautifully told stories can find them in one location and cherry-pick the best journalistic work and media companies are offered a way to monetise those time- and money-consuming projects.