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Amazoning The News > Web Storytelling
by Ellen Kampinsky, Shayne Bowman, Chris Willis

"It may be hard to believe at the moment, but people once defined the meaning of their lives by the stories they told one another."

David Denby, writing in The New Yorker magazine, lamented the lack of coherent stories in contemporary, action-packed movies. I have a similar complaint about the web. The web has content, it has material that is repurposed, it has data — but where are the stories?

Where are the stories that are being told in a new way appropriate to this medium? In my opinion, the stories that are done in the best, the most web-specific way, are not on the New York Times site or Salon or Washingtonpost.com. The best job of story telling is being done by ... Amazon.

Why Amazon? To understand, first we need to look at what we mean by story. We're accustomed to the way stories are told in print and in movies. We know the form and the vocabulary. In fact the old-media story template can be boiled down pretty simply, as it is in a New Yorker cartoon by Roz Chast. The four elements of a story, she says, are: "Once upon a time. Suddenly. Luckily. Happily ever after." Traditional story telling is all about narrative arc and character development.

How is story telling different on the web? The web uses all the tools of print, as well as those of video and audio. But it destroys narrative arc, character development, continuity. On the web you lose the strengths of "Once upon a time. Suddenly. Luckily. Happily Ever After."

The web is not conducive to story telling as we know it. Which is a shame. Because good story telling is transforming and it conveys meaning. The web can offer a meaningful experience — just not in the traditional story-telling way. The web is really about people, and people come to it with certain goals that they want to satisfy. If you help them fulfill their goals, you will create a meaningful experience.

Next >

1  Web Storytelling
2  Five Web Goals
3  Five Rules for Net Engagement
4  Example 1 - NBA Story
5  Example 2 - News Story
6  Web links
7  Readers respond

0  Related on this page
•  New Yorker cartoon about story by Roz Chast


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