Digital Stories are multimedia narratives
Short, personal and written with feeling there's a strictness to their construction: 250 words, a dozen or so pictures, and two minutes is about the right length.
Considered narratives which subject themselves to strictures of form tend to elegance. Digital Stories – when properly done – can be tight as sonnets: multimedia sonnets from the people.
I started working with this form in 2000 when, following a research trip to the USA, I borrowed a Californian model of Digital Storytelling (all links open in a new window) and, together with a team at BBC Wales, began developing it as a new way of making broadcast television. I believed then and I believe now that this form can be used to open up the airwaves for a wide range of users, in short to give a voice to all those who, until now, have thought of themselves – in a broadcast context anyway – only as part of "the audience".
Digital Stories are best made in workshops where participants come together to share skills and benefit from the assistance of facilitators.
A workshop gives its participants courage, for making a Digital Story isn't easy. It can, though, be remarkably empowering and, when imagined as a tool of democratised media, it has I think the potential to change the way we engage in our communities. At the BBC we created an itinerant workshop, a lab we could take out on the road: to miners' institutes and welfare halls, community IT suites and arts centres, schools and colleges.
Our project was called BBC Capture Wales. It ran from 2001 until 2008. Nearly 600 stories were produced and it won some awards including a BAFTA Cymru.
View The Stories
Here are links to a selection of stories, each one made over five days by participants on those BBC workshops:
Memories Written On My Face
A Night At The Dog And Duck
A Quest For Understanding
Elvis Died In My Bedroom
Something On My Heart
Pinky, Baby And Me
A Dog's Life
And in Welsh (Cipolwg Ar Gymru):
Gweld Llun, Clywed Lais
A Vibrant Community
Inspired and encouraged by the BBC Capture Wales/Cipolwg Ar Gymru team, a number of Digital Storytelling groups and projects sprung 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 at the University of Glamorgan run by my former BBC colleague, Karen Lewis. These projects have, in turn, sparked fresh initiatives like the Cancer Genetics StoryBank (launched November 2010).
Also, between 2006 and '08, more than 70 groups in Wales benefited from Welsh Assembly Government (WAG) funding for Digital Storytelling projects under the Communities@One digital inclusion initiative.
Visitors from abroad who discovered Digital Storytelling in Wales, developed their own versions of the project when they returned home. Diego Vidart from South America created Historias Digitales del Uruguay. In Norway, Hanne Jones (who made Walking with Maurice in Monmouth in March 2004) teamed up with Eli Lea (who had done work experience with Capture Wales in Rhyll in November 2003) and started Digitale Fortellinger, producing a number of projects for broadcast television including My Days for channel NRK in 2010.
Festival of Digital Storytelling
Every June, facilitators and participants alike gather in Wales for a Festival of Digital Storytelling.
- DS4 was held on 17 June 2009, at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. BBC representatives formally handed over tapes and discs of 588 Capture Wales Digital Stories to The National Library of Wales for its archive. (See the press release.)
- DS5 was held on 16 June 2010, at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. See reports by: Barrie Stephenson of Digistories, and Gareth Morlais of BBC Cymru Wales.
- DS6 was held on 17 June 2011, at Aberystwyth Arts Centre. See report by Gareth Morlais.
- DS7 was held on 7 June 2012, at Chapter Arts, Cardiff. See report by Gareth Morlais.
- DS8 was held on 14 June 2013, at Chapter Arts, Cardiff. See report by Gareth Morlais.
The BBC Legacy
An idea that was so imaginatively embraced by BBC Wales back in 2001 has impacted widely. A two month project which turned into a one year pilot and then a three-year commission, ended up lasting seven years.
The legacy is extraordinary. Across Wales photographs have discovered the talkies, and the stories told have assembled in the ether as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a gaggle of invisible histories which, when viewed together, tell the bigger story of our time, the story that defines who we are. Speaking at DS1, the first Aberystwyth festival in 2006, Ana Serrano – Director of the Canadian Film Centre's media lab – said:
"You are the best practice. You are the case study that we should be touting all over north America, all over Europe... It's a tremendous achievement and I hope every one of you understands how special this is because it's not something that happens anywhere else in the way that it has in Wales."
The Language of Media
Whatever comes next, all we can hope is that media professionals everywhere take note of the one big lesson that came out of the experience (and the four PhD studies which were made) of Capture Wales. Here it is:
If, in the digital age, we want everyone to be able to join in the "conversation" that Big Media promises to be, then we must intervene to help everyone – and not just those who are computer savvy – to speak the language of media. Otherwise the only slogan needed above the door of Broadcasting House will be:
"Enter here only ye
Of the digital literati."
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
The following can be read online if the institution from which you are surfing is a paid-up subscriber:
* Hartley, John. 2008. Editorial Who Are You Going to Believe: Me or Your Own Eyes? International Journal of Cultural Studies 11(1):7-10. (Click on 'Begin Manual Download', when the .pdf file loads, look at the picture on page 5, then scroll down to page 10 and start reading.)
* Meadows, Daniel. 2003. Digital Storytelling: Research-based Practice in New Media Visual Communication 2(2):189-193.