are multimedia narratives, short movies told in the first person, delivered with feeling and made on home computers. At their simplest there's a strictness to their construction: 250 words, a dozen pictures, and two minutes or so in length. It's a form that tends to elegance. When made as a shared experience in workshops run by skilled facilitators, digital stories can be tight as sonnets. Multimedia sonnets from the people.
Made on the Kitchen Table
The affordable technology that first made digital storytelling possible came on the market in 1995 when home computers were enabled with IEEE 1394 connectivity ('Firewire').
In the USA early-adopters like Dana Atchley (Home Movies, Redheads, Horse-Cow) showed how audio recordings, home video and photographs could be edited seamlessly using consumer-level technology and off-the-shelf software. At the same time, expanding internet connectivity promised the perfect platform for publication. I was excited. With my large archive of pictures and audio tapes piling up, digital storytelling seemed like the perfect Daniel-shaped tool.
I made my first digital story during a research trip to the USA, with Joe Lambert at the Center for Digital Storytelling (now Storycenter) in California, in November 2000.
In time it became clear that the skills required to produce digital stories could be taught to first-time computer users, thus opening the possibility for people everywhere to make their own content for broadcast television. A top-down industry which had for too long exercised 'a radical monopoly' (as Illich would have had it) over the means of production, was about to be shaken from the bottom-up.
In 2001 I borrowed Atchley and Lambert's Californian model of digital storytelling and, with support from colleagues at Cardiff University, took it to BBC Cymru Wales. There, in the DigiNation unit, we trained a team to develop it as a travelling community workshop. Our objective was to open up the airwaves for a wide range of new users, giving a voice to people who, until then, had been thought of only as part of the audience.
In the BBC digilab, Llandaff, Cardiff, January 2002. Left to right: Greg Dyke, BBC director-general; Karen Lewis, Capture Wales producer; Menna Richards, controller BBC Wales.
This all happened in a time before YouTube (launched 2005) and smartphones (the first Apple iPhone went on sale in 2007). People didn't have much video so we used family photos instead, digitising them in scanners. Over five days, workshop participants (usually the first ten people though the door) learned how to write scripts and then sequence their pictures with a voice-over to produce concise, considered narratives.
BBC Capture Wales, as our project was known, visited community centres — miners' institutes, welfare halls, pubs, arts centres, schools, colleges — all over Wales. We worked in both the Welsh and English languages. We also trained a BBC team to work in England (Telling Lives, 2002-05).
Harlech, March 2003. BBC Capture Wales workshop.
As we had hoped, participants found digital storytelling to be remarkably empowering and, imagined as a tool of democratised media, quickly discovered its potential to change the way we engage in our communities.
The results astonished us. Across Wales photographs discovered the talkies and the stories told assembled in the ether like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a gaggle of previously invisible histories that, viewed on the web and on television, told the bigger story of our time, the story that defines who we are.
The BBC Legacy
Inspired by the BBC project, also benefiting from Welsh Assembly Government funding under its digital inclusion initiative, some seventy Digital Storytelling groups and projects sprang up across Wales, including: Yale Centre for Digital Storytelling in Wrexham; Breaking Barriers in Caerphilly; From Warfare to Welfare at the National Library of Wales; and StoryWorks.
Each summer, digital storytelling enthusiasts from across the World would gather in Wales for 'DS', our Festival of Digital Storytelling.
Visitors who discovered Digital Storytelling during their time in Wales developed their own versions of the project when they returned home. Diego Vidart created Historias Digitales del Uruguay. Hanne Jones and Eli Lea in Norway started Digitale Fortellinger producing a number of broadcast projects for channel NRK including My Days in 2010.
BBC Capture Wales Team (2001-08)
Jody Abramason, Gilly Adams, Gina Carpenter, Huw Davies, Tony Dumont, Carwyn Evans, Lisa Heledd Jones, Lisa Jones, Karen Lewis, Dafydd Llewelyn, Daniel Meadows, Gareth Morlais, Mandy Rose, Rob Thompson, Simon Turner.
Capture Wales went on to generate many hundreds of stories and our project won awards, including a BAFTA Cymru (2002).
BAFTA ceremony Cardiff, April 2003. Left to right: storytellers Paul Cabuts and Gaynor Clifford; Daniel Meadows, BBC Capture Wales creative director.
The BBC kept faith with us for almost seven years. By 2008, though, its thinking had changed. The Corporation no longer wanted to assist amateur user-producers in the community to make their own stories. What it now wanted for 'user-generated content' was raw footage that could be 'sent in' and edited by BBC professionals. Gatekeeping was in, enabling was out. The door which in 2001 had opened so imaginatively to let us in was firmly shut. The experiment was over.
The Capture Wales website is no longer properly maintained so I can't make any useful links here to guide you through what we did. However, I notice that a number of stories (lo-res versions) have found their way onto YouTube: Paula Richards about the miners' strike in 1984; William Bleasdale about his brother; Shirley G Williams's Welsh language story Seren Wîb. Also, if you trouble to make the journey to view them in Aberystwyth, 588 of our stories are archived there in the National Library of Wales.
As for me, I've never stopped making digital stories.
When I retired from academic life (2012), I devoted my time to preparing my documentary archive for its acquisition by the Library of Birmingham (2014). To guide researchers and Library visitors around the work I made a series of digital stories called Talking Pictures (links are in the left-hand column towards the top of this page).
For a full account of the BBC's Digital Storytelling experiment 2001-2008 see:
* Meadows, Daniel, and Kidd, Jenny. (2009) Capture Wales, The BBC Digital Storytelling Project in Hartley, J, and McWilliam, K, (eds.) Story Circle: Digital Storytelling Around the World. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
* Poverty in the Media: Being Seen and Getting Heard, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report, July 2009. Click the arrow below to play embedded video.
* Habits of the Heart: Storytelling and Everyday Life. Fyfe, Hamish. 14 June 2007. Seminar paper presented at the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling, the University of Glamorgan (opens as a .pdf file in new window).
Articles in Academic Journals
* Hartley, John. 2008. Editorial Who Are You Going to Believe: Me or Your Own Eyes? International Journal of Cultural Studies 11(1):7-10. (When the .pdf file loads, look at the picture on page 5, then scroll down to page 10 and start reading.)
This one can be read online only if the institution from which you are surfing is a paid-up subscriber:
* Meadows, Daniel. 2003. Digital Storytelling: Research-based Practice in New Media Visual Communication 2(2):189-193.
"In the early 1980s, at both Granada TV in Manchester and ATV in Birmingham, I experimented with editing together stills and audio to make items for broadcast television. It was an awkward, frustrating and time-consuming process. The tools needed were few in number, industrial in scale and their use was limited only to those who knew their way through a labyrinth of fiercely contested job demarcation. Little did I know that, within twenty years, I'd be doing it on my own on the kitchen table."