INMA South Asia – Ingenious ways of storytelling

Strategies of reader engagement in the Covid-19 mayhem

The INMA South Asia News Media Summit hosted a panel discussion on 13 August 2021 on ‘New

“Homo sapiens is a storytelling animal that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs and believes that the universe itself works like a story, replete with heroes and villains, conflicts and resolutions, climaxes, and happy endings. When we look for the meaning of life, we want a story that will explain what reality is all about and what my particular role is in the cosmic drama. This role makes me a part of something bigger than myself, and gives meaning to all my experiences and choices.”

Yuval Noah Harari, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Storytelling is a basic art that has been with humans since times immemorial. Anthropologists claim that human beings are essentially products of stories that we tell ourselves, stories that bind us together as a race. The INMA South Asia News Media Summit hosted a panel discussion on 13 August 2021 on ‘New Forms of Storytelling.’

Mahfuz Anam, editor, and publisher, The Daily Star, began with the above quote by Yuval Noah Harari. These days storytelling comes in new forms with the peculiarities of the online platforms that have revolutionized reach. The Bangladesh-based Daily Star embraced several ways of sharing stories virtually. A bilingual homepage with English stories on the left and Bangla stories on the right arrived after realizing that foreign-language stories lag in clicks.

The media house has a symbiotic relationship between the English and Bangla newsrooms. Anam revealed that Bangla was the motive force in Bangladesh’s birth as a country. Hence, news stories based on the history of the language and its role during the nationalist struggle have exhibited exponentially high reach.

Anam further added that the primary trick is to look at integrated print stories which do well on multimedia platforms. Taking the example of Story of Water, which focuses on the journey of contaminated water from the source to its purified form, he demonstrated that print stories could digitally perform through multimedia fusion. Chief Executive Story is another insightful example of the potential of storytelling that talks about the personal growth of the CEOs of successful companies.

INMA storytelling
Amar Ujala Digital’s Kavya Cafe initiative.

Amar Ujala Digital too adopted several unique forms of online storytelling during the Covid-19 pandemic. Kavya Kafe was one such initiative providing a virtual platform to budding poets across the country to publish and recite their verses. Hindi Hai Hum was another experiment that focused on the variety of content users wish to consume throughout the day. This storytelling device, created as a novel approach to mark the Hindi Diwas, received over 20,000 one-minute videos in 2020 featuring recitations of Hindi poems and stories. In addition, a short film entry was introduced in 2021 to show respect and gratitude towards the language.

Jaideep Karnik, content head and editor, Amar Ujala Digital, spoke about particular digital actions implemented by the media website to boost revenues. These included Aamne/Samne, which shows both aspects of the story through an engaging debate, and Badi Khabar, which provides comprehensive coverage of big-ticket events.

The power of data journalism can be harnessed to rope in online readers as well. An executive editor, Times Internet, Rohit Saran, said that data-driven stories that cease to intimidate people perform well as they self-validate reader perspectives. For example, Times Internet portrayed the news of Kandahar’s takeover by the Taliban through a collection of 10 maps of the region ranging from pre-9/11 till the takeover, along with a short paragraph explaining the map. As a result, the story did exceedingly well on
the platform.

Talking Photos is another popular strategy employed by the digital platform, including pictures with audio captured on the ground. They are then shared as a slideshow of 25 photos, with each image having its own unique audio. Though still at a nascent stage, Times Internet is also planning to launch subject series podcasts.

InShorts enables 1.5 million videos from 5,000 citizens

Deepit Purkayastha, co-founder and chief strategy officer, InShorts, shared examples that attracted readers during the Covid-19 crisis. Its Insight Series drew on the younger generation’s love for learning on mobile devices. Many youngsters experience FOMO – the fear of missing out, as they may not be avid readers but love to be updated about the latest happenings. The insight series embraces a magazine kind of teaching, which helps this group learn and keep up.

InShorts also talked about its branding innovation with advertorials on brand stories designed to engage readers. For example, users can play a character on the latest Netflix show in its interactive online magazine.

The digital publication realized that India is immense with about 1500 dialects, 2.5 lakh villages, and 10,000 urban sectors. While citizens want to know what is happening in their locality, it is tough for a news platform to penetrate to this level. So InShorts decided to enable creators and establish a community feeling to address the digital divide prevalent in the country. As a result, some 5,000 creators from different districts submitted 1.5 million unique localized videos on the app under this initiative.

Purkayastha concluded that knowing the niche user well and doubling down on their needs is the key to viral stories on digital news platforms. Digital media publishers should, therefore, keep their minds open to creative ideas that can pry open the realm of digital storytelling.

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