Mobile-First Visual Storytelling

A sixteen-hour training course with Erin Brown

Based on a training originally developed for foreign correspondents of The New York Times, this course aims to help journalists and media professionals adapt their skills in reporting and writing to new ways of storytelling by providing them with quality instruction and hands-on learning experiences in visual storytelling. This isn’t just a photography or video course, instead we approach visual storytelling with a mobile audience in mind.  By the end of the two-day intensive, participants can expect to leave with sharpened skills in writing for mobile, composing a story through images, and mobile photography and videography, as well as a handle on how to create content on native mobile platforms like Instagram and Snapchat, an overview of the trends in the industry, and a toolkit of mobile storytelling secret weapons.


Session one (am): The Case For Mobile and What Makes A Story Mobile-First

Why should we be telling stories designed specifically for mobile? Why should be we making those stories on mobile phones? In the introduction to the course, we tackle the questions of what mobile storytelling is and why it is important.  We’ll look at the trajectory of mobile growth, and talk about user experience.

Then, we’ll dive into what makes a story mobile first.  (Mobile first stories: are direct and contained; feel intimate and personal; pull readers in right away and move quickly; and understand that text is the most flexible medium.)  We will look at and critique examples from major news outlets as well as from international aid organizations and independent journalists. We’ll dissect them to uncover what works and what doesn’t.  We will take note of everything from story pacing and length to the amount of text on a given slide.

Session two (am): Mobile Story Arcs

Once we’ve learned more about what makes for a good mobile-first story, we’ll dive into how to create your own mobile-first story.  We’ll look at and critique various examples (both good and bad) for how to compose a story arc. We’ll talk about how to shift thinking away from the inverted pyramid or linear narrative to create a captivating story. And then we’ll do an exercise in small groups — assembling a story arc for a mobile first story based on the siege of Aleppo.

Session three (pm): Building A Story Through Images

This is the most intensive of the sessions: It dives into the nuts and bolts of telling a story through images, and how to capture them.  The session focuses on the four major elements of visual storytelling : setting the scene, understanding the characters, building tension and emotion, and following the action. Within each of these themes, we will look at examples drawn from the best photojournalists around the world, then dive into learning a technique (composition, lighting,  working with subjects, videography), trying each one out and looking at our own work. We we will also discuss as a group a component of photo ethics that corresponds with each of our major themes (exposing/processing; cropping/photoshopping; staging; and privacy).


Session four (am): In-The-Field Hacks

This quick session goes over in-the-field hacks gleaned from years of experience. We’ll talk about equipment (if your organization chooses to purchase mobile storytelling kits, we will go over using everything, including the gimbal), what to do if something fails, ways to approach people, etc.  

Session five (am): Shooting Your Story

This is when you’ll be turned loose in the city to find and shoot your own story. With just an hour and a half, what can you come up with? You will be surprised.

Session six (pm): Assembly and Critique

We’ll all come back with stories in tow, and sit down to write scripts, assemble footage into a story on Instagram, and then watch and critique one another’s stories.  You’ll have hands-on help to master Insta if you’re a neophyte, and, don’t worry — I have a dummy handle we can load everything into so you don’t have to sully your personal brand with your first attempt.

Session seven (pm): Story Pitches

The favorite component of all of our participants, the last hour and a half is reserved for talking through story pitches.  We workshop, together as a group, everything from the story ideas to how we would shoot and what techniques and tools to use.