If you think like I do, the phrase ‘slow journalism’ may strike you as a paradox or a lame joke the first time you hear it.
I certainly was skeptical when I entered the deep dive session, “Storytelling: Out of Eden, Into the Story,” Tuesday at the Excellence in Journalism Conference in New Orleans.
But I left the workshop with an understanding and appreciation for slowing down in a field that increasingly values speeding up. I also left with a new set of skills that helped me cover a street in New Orleans in a day — and will most likely help both aspiring and working journalists as well.
The six-hour session was led by Don Belt, a journalism professor at the University of Richmond, and Jeff South, a journalism professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. The class was split into teams of three with each reporting squad receiving its own street to cover.
My team was assigned St. Louis Street in the French Quarter. I had the pleasure of working on the project with two other people: Jessica Bliss, a storytelling columnist for The Tennessean and Domanique Crawford, a journalism student from Humboldt State in California. Check our our final product here — something we had turned around in about three hours after walking around.
I hope sharing my experience will help shed light on what slow journalism is, how to do it and how to make a compelling multimedia interactive in a story map.
First, Bell and South gave a brief introduction to the concept of slow journalism — perhaps best popularized and performed by National Geographic’s Out of Eden project. That project is an ongoing, 22,000-mile walk that Paul Salopek is undertaking and started in 2013. Salopek is tracing the path of human migration by going through Africa, Europe, Asia, North America and South America.
He isn’t trying to break news or churn out daily content. The mission of Salopek — and of slow journalism by extension — is a focus on quality and content. My deep dive session did that on a (very) micro scale Tuesday.
We walked about 10 blocks of St. Louis Street at a deliberately measured pace. We talked to people and looked at things. We took our time instead of rushing around.
I had a pleasant conversation with some tourists who turned out to be Australians who all play the ukulele together as a band. I walked in a family-run cooking school and learned how they teach people to cook. My teammate Jessica Bliss even was invited into a local artist’s apartment. We toured a restaurant that is 176 years old and counting — and run by the same family the entire time.
It was a bizarre and unnatural method to me at first — journalism school and internships have hammered in my brain that the best journalists are always working furiously. This was leisurely, yet I think the stories we got could only be gotten through this way.
It made me think why I didn’t do a walk this when I was in Baltimore, where I interned last summer as a metro reporter. How many unique people, places and stories would I have encountered if I did? Slow journalism is a method that I think most reporters could benefit by considering and using when appropriate.
Story maps: A quick, easy and free how-to tutorial
The complementary second half of the deep dive was learning how to use StoryMapJS, a multimedia tool created by the Knight Foundation. The final product can look intimidating — but the software is intuitive, easy and (best of all) free.
It is perfect for stories where the geographic location matters and changes. As their website says, it helps “you tell stories on the web that highlight the locations of a series of events.” It’s all online and requires no software.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to how to use it, adapted from instructions by Bell and South:
- Go to https://storymap.knightlab.com/
- Click “Make a Storymap Now” on the homepage
- Sign in to your Google account and give your Storymap a name
- Fill out your title slide, which will show all your points from the rest of your slides
- You can add one piece of media to each slide — only video or photo (so no audio/Soundcloud)
- Note: You can only add one piece, so choose wisely. That means you cannot do a series of photographs, though you could make a slideshow video of those same photos and use that.
- Click “Add Slide” to the left to create a new data point
- Enter an address in the “search” box at the bottom of the map
- Add media, headline and text
- Repeat until all your data is entered
Also, feel free to tinker with stylistic options by clicking “Options” at the top left. You can change the map type, font and the size of the graphic.
When you are all done and satisfied with the project, click “Share” in the upper right corner. There you have a URL to a Knight Lab webpage that will immediately host it, as well as embed options for your own website.