Digital Storytelling and the democratisation of media

In this week’s Online Journalism lecture, Dr Daniel Meadows gave us a lesson in Digital Storytelling, a form of short video that emerged in the late 1990s which makes use of still images and voice-overs.

Daniel’s background is in photography and he showed us examples of his early work, in which he would take portraits of members of a working class community in Manchester in the early 1970s.

Reflecting the work of American depression era photographer Walker Evans, they show the quiet dignity of everyday people who live outside the gaze of the ‘power-centred hierarchy’ of traditional media.

Photograph by Daniel Meadows

Photograph by Walker Evans

From these origins, Daniel moved into Digital Storytelling in the late 1990s, combining the social documentation of his early photographs with personal stories and memories through voice-over.

As well as showing us his own pieces, Daniel played several of the films made as part of the Capture Wales project he helped run, which offered people from around the country the chance to make videos about their own lives. Over 600 of these videos were made between 2001 and 2008, and many were shown on BBC Wales.

Daniel’s point seemed to be that the ease with which these glimpses into real life, which are not covered by the interests of traditional media, can be made using modern media turns around the traditional ‘broadcast’ model, in which the audience can only be a receiver. It encourages free expression and the opportunity to create your own narrative about the world.

This echoes George Siemens’s thoughts in Knowing Knowledge:

Mass Media and education […] have been largely designed on a one-way flow model (structure imposed by hierarchy). […] An alternative to the this model has been developing momentum over the last few years. years. Simple, social, end-user control tools (blogs, wikis, tagging and social bookmarking, podcasting, video logging) are affording new methods of information connection and back-flow to the original source.

In fact, I got the impression from Daniel that he believes Digital Storytelling is already growing out of date. The use of still images and voice-over was, as well as a stylistic choice, a practical one, as the availability of video recording and editing equipment was much less prevalent 10 years ago than it is today. The equivalent now is the home-made video on You Tube, a platform which offers everyone the chance to broadcast worldwide from their bedroom.