It is blatantly apparent that journalism is no longer an exclusive vocation. Anyone can become a respected expert simply by publishing a successful blog, and on-the-ground news gathering is now open to any individual equipped with a smartphone. Even traditional professional media outlets are now moving with the times and embracing the phone; the Chicago Sun-Times recently replaced its entire photography department by making iPhones standard issue among its reporters.
There is a difference, however, between the simplistic recording of current events, and great journalism. Truly to captivate a reader, listener, or viewer, a journalist must tell a story and provide a coherent narrative. In most cases, the ability to do this is not a talent, but rather, a learned skill. How much better, then, would Average Joe’s news gathering be if he were to learn this skill? Significantly so, in all likelihood.
That is the idea behind Storymaker, a new Android offering which aims to educate everyone in the art of capturing and presenting the stories around them. This beta app provides a library of tutorials, and pre-built cookie cutter stories to build your report around. The concept is an interesting one, but can an app really turn us all into high class correspondents? Let’s find out…
The visual emphasis in StoryMaker is placed, unsurprisingly, very much on the stories you create within the app. By default, a tumblelog-style column of your reports fills all but the small black bar at the top, which contains access to StoryMaker’s other controls. Stories are presented nicely, each with a photo, video still, or a waveform graph as their preview image.
StoryMaker’s default view is somewhat tumblelog-like.
StoryMaker’s menu is always available to pop out on the left of screen, and it provides access to the tutorials, the one-touch capture controls, and to your stories, along with the option to sign in to the StoryMaker website (more on that later).
Visually, StoryMaker isn’t terribly exciting. The colour scheme, at its furthest ends, ranges from beige to grey, and the layout can be described as practical, rather than appealing. Given the type of app StoryMaker is, however – part educational, part serious journalism – I don’t feel that the uninspiring design will be too off-putting. Equally, we are talking about a beta here, so design revisions may very well arrive at a later stage.
StoryMaker isn’t terribly pretty, but it is satisfactorily functional.
Teaching the Art
The Lessons section of StoryMaker is not gamified or terribly interactive. What it does offer, however, is a very well written, easy to understand, in-depth guide to the key components of modern journalism.
This mobile instruction manual is split into five main chapters — Journalism, Security, Audio, Photography and Videography. The chapters are then further split into sections which focus on individual skills and scenarios. Each chapter is accompanied by its own glossary, and each article includes pleasant cartoon-like illustrations.
It may be, in essence, an ebook, but StoryMaker’s tutorials are very helpful.
The Journalism section gives information which is relevant for any reporter, regardless of their preferred recording medium. Considerable advice on utilizing social media, interview techniques, and story building is included, but more professionally-relevant articles on media law and journalistic ethics are also available.
It may not sound like required reading for covering your local fête, but the chapter on Security is actually useful for anyone using electronic communications. Along with general advice on ensuring physical safety in dangerous situations, it also provides advice on the safe use of passwords, email, SMS and mobile data.
The chapters on Photography, Videography and Audio all provide impressively in-depth information, both on the skills themselves, and on how to utilize the resulting media for the best effect.
Overall, though, whilst StoryMaker’s Lessons may not be technically stunning, they offer good information, in a perfectly useable format.
Whether photography, video, or audio is your medium of choice, StoryMaker holds your hand through the process of creating a well-rounded report.
Should you choose to create a photo story, for instance, the app suggests several different types of shots you may choose to include – wide angle scene-setters and frame-filling portraits being prime examples. A range of equivalent suggestions is offered when capturing video and audio.
StoryMaker guides you through the creation of a story.
The actual taking of photos and videos is achieved via Android’s built-in camera app, whilst audio is recorded using StoryMaker’s own skeumorphically-styled voice recorder, which, by the way, does the required job perfectly well.
The on-screen voice recorder may be simple, but it is also easy to use.
Publishing the News
So, you have read the guide and captured everything you’ve seen and heard during a newsworthy event or festivity – now you just need to share your report with the world.
First, however, you need to piece together the raw images, footage, or sound into a compelling narrative. StoryMaker offers a slideshow-like approach to presentation, allowing you to arrange your clips into a cogent order which the app will then play through. It’s a simple way of doing things – I wish there were a way of editing individual clips and images – but it is easy to operate, and practical, considering that this is a phone-based system.
Once you finish your piece, you have two options when it comes to publishing. StoryMaker has its own website, and should you choose to create an account, you are able to upload your work directly to the stream of creation produced by StoryMakers worldwide. If you’d prefer to keep things personal, you can export your story to any suitable app you have installed, meaning you can share via anything from Gmail, to Twitter, to Facebook.
Whether or not everyman (and -woman) journalism is a good development is a matter for discussion, but it is certainly going to be a fact of life from this point onwards. With this in mind, perhaps it is a good idea for those who wish to find, capture and publish stories of their own volition, to be trained to produce the highest quality of journalism they can.
With this purpose in mind, StoryMaker does a fine job. I wouldn’t say that the app, in its current form, is the best or easiest way to capture news, but as an educational tool, it works beautifully. In fact, the testing of this app might just have made me a better journalist…