Your Thoughts on These Videos Touted as Good Storytelling?

Comments (4)

Digital storytelling is an exploding phenomenon, especially in education. I’ve been collecting some examples of video praised in various corners of cyberspace for telling stories well.

I’ve watched at least part of all of these and, since I am no expert in digital storytelling, I’ve asked myself these questions in my attempt to evaluate them:

  • Do they truly embody storytelling?
  • Are the stories well told?
  • Are the videos of high quality (or does poor quality mar the videos’ ability to tell stories)?

What do you think of these? Remember that folks cited each of these as an example of good or even great storytelling. Some of them enjoyed significant buzz.

  • Three student-produced videos appear on Flip The Media. They are from a multimedia storytelling class in the University of Washington’s Masters of Communications in Digital Media (MCDM) program. I felt only the first one really told a story, but one that was marred by loud, distracting background music. The other two, in my opinion, simply presented snippets of exposition. All are less than 3 minutes long.
  • Aligning with my interest in storytelling as a job-search technique are videos from a recent contest for the Best Job in the World. “Applicants were charged with creating a one-minute video as their application,” writes Dean Shareski in a blog entry about how video production is a 21st-century skill. He highlights his favorite (by Anny) from the contest. It’s well done. I might hire this young lady based on her exuberance and video skills. But her video resume is a bit too focused on what the job can do for her instead of what she can do for the employer. And it’s really not storytelling.
  • I enjoyed two long-ish fictional stories. Forever’s Not So Long by Shawn Morrison and Garrett Murray is an apocalyptic tale of almost 13 minutes about a city facing some sort of annihilation with no hope for survival. Against that backdrop, a young man somewhat nonchalantly ends one relationship and enters into another. Gary.jpgThe second, Gary (by “Gary”), is also about a relationship — this one between a young boy and a slightly older girl. The most interesting aspect of this 7-minute, 14-second animated fantasy is that it’s in French, but the story still comes across even if your two years of high-school French (like mine) are not up to the task of interpretation.
  • The site Civil Rights March to Sacramento site, formed to protest the gay marriage ban in California, has a number of videos, of which I saw “Sarah’s Story” touted as poignant. I’m sure it is, but I could not watch the full almost 7 minutes because the quality was so poor. Notably, the loud din of many people talking the background was too distracting.
  • Two videos illustrate the power of deploying stories in presentations. Both tell stories of people who transcended difficulties to rise to greatness. The first can’t even really be called a video. It consists of the slides of motivational speaker Tony Robbins telling the story of how Sylvester Stallone came to make Rocky. I didn’t think I’d want to keep watching this 9-minute-plus “video” consisting of still photos and Robbins’ voiceover, but Robbins sucked me into the story and compelled me want to keep listening. Great story. Not-so-great video. The second example is also not digital storytelling, but a video of a presenter telling a 2-minute, 40-second story, in this case, Sir Ken Robinson in one the excellent TED Talks telling the story of how dancer Gillian Lynne overcame a “disability” to achieve fame and success. This story, too, is well-told. It comes 15 minutes into a 19-minute presentation. I watched only the story, per the suggestion of blogger Matt Moore.
  • I found two collections of very short videos very interesting, if not really storytelling. One is 12seconds. Think of it as Facebook for non-typists; its status updates are 12-second videos. “It’s a super easy way to share what you’re doing with your friends and family using short video clips,” the site proclaims. I watched a few of them. I found them neither to tell stories nor come off as especially compelling. The other collection spotlights a digital storytelling initiative in Senegal, described this way on the site: “These 17 student-made videos are the product of a three-week digital storytelling initiative in rural Senegal.” These very short videos are nice, but only very loosely storytelling, in my opinion.
  • Probably the video story that has garnered the most buzz recently is Slagsmålsklubben by Tomas Nilsson, the result of a “school assignment to reinterpret the fairytale Little Red Riding Hood.” (The title apparently refers to the originators of the background music, a Swedish electro/pop group. Wikipedia says “the name Slagsmålsklubben is an almost literal Swedish translation of the title of the novel and film Fight Club” Not sure whether this Fight Club aspect relates to the video’s content or why Nilsson chose this name for the video). This 2-minute, 45-second animated video is a lot of fun, well done (using faux infographics), and definitely tells this familiar story effectively.
  • My favorite video story of the bunch is also the longest at more than 21 minutes. It’s the beautifully told, sad, poignant story of the demise of the Rocky Mountain News, which published its last edition on Feb. 27. Perfect background music and strong production values enhance this painful story. Clearly, this one resonates with me as I chronicle and commiserate over the long, slow death march of newspapers. But I think just about anyone would be moved by this powerful story, embedded below:

Final Edition from Matthew Roberts on Vimeo.


Thanks for digging up these interesting examples of what is and isn’t storytelling. One of the things I’ve noticed in my story work is that lots of people talk about stories and storytelling but many people actually cannot identify when they are hearing a story from when they’re not. Without the ability to differentiate it’s pretty hard to work with stories. Part of the problem stems from the world of journalism calling everything they write a story.

I found the Little Red Riding Hood and Rocky stories most effective for me. Robbins’ telling of Stallone’s story is a classic challenge plot, overcoming the odds and it’s made up of a series of anecdotes that build and build the story. We want to know how, in the end, he makes the breakthrough. All of it was storytelling for me.

Little Red Riding Hood was fascinating because the viewer had to make many small interpretations throughout the story and while we all know how it ends, we want to know how it will be depicted.

The Mountain News story was less interesting for me mainly because a good proportion wasn’t storytelling in detail, it was characters in the story giving their opinion. It also looked and felt like a TV news story which I’ve seen many times before. The music also seemed repetitive.

Thanks again for finding and sharing these videos Katherine.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Shawn. My inclination to see the Rocky Mountain News video as storytelling is undoubtedly colored by my personal passion for this subject matter.

Once again, my definition of story may be more expansive than others’. A former Rocky Mountain News editor, I, of course, found Final Edition riveting — and unquestionably a story that tells the impact of a newspaper’s closure on its staff and its community.

The Senegal videos also are stories, I believe. They are a field trip to another land and way of life. I could not help but think that if I had to spend 30 minutes to get water to bathe and drink in the morning, or go though so much trouble to get a glass of milk, perhaps I wouldn’t have time to blog.

The TED Talk by Sir Robinson was not a single story, but several strung together to make a compelling point. I was so impacted by that talk, that I wrote about it in my blog,

I’m so glad you liked the Rocky Mountain News story. It must have been wonderful to work there. Thanks so much for weighing in.

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