Web producer Heather Loney describes how digital journalists need to stay focused on the story, not contribute to the "noise" of digital content.

Web producer Heather Loney describes how digital journalists need to stay focused on the story, not contribute to the "noise" of digital content.

It's a liberating feeling to work in online news, realizing the endless number of stories you can cover, and the many ways you can cover them.

Digital tools are continually emerging that change the idea of storytelling. Video, photos, and text—the bread and butter of traditional media—are elevated with data visualizations, live blogs, interactive maps, and timelines. New open source products are launched, tested in beta, reworked, scrapped for something else altogether.

So now, a major challenge in the digital newsroom is not only staying ahead of the curve by adopting and learning new tools, but also cutting through the constant din, stepping back and asking, “What is the best way to tell this story?”

“How can we contribute to the story, and not just to the noise?”

Covering the G20 riots in Toronto in July 2010 was my first taste of how exhilarating online journalism can be. The weekend’s events began predictably—we had set up a live blog online to complement our broadcast coverage.

Before long, however, small pockets of peaceful protests and political posturing were overshadowed. Conflicts between police and protesters escalated, and the events snowballed into a massive news story—it was unfolding right before our eyes, in real time on our blog.

Integration between web and broadcast teams worked: reporters in the field sent video updates directly to our live blog from their phones. Tweets, photos, and updates streamed in. The end result: a detailed timeline of a major news story that captured the pace and the complexity of the weekend. The story was told both from street level and from corner offices.

Since that G20 weekend in Toronto, live blogging has emerged as a compelling and accepted method of storytelling, with organizations like Al Jazeera at the forefront.

However, much like broadcast’s ‘man typing at desk’ establishing shots and stand-ups outside the courthouse, live blogs have become all too familiar in digital news.

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In some cases they provide an endless stream of information with no real focus or direction. In other cases they are really just static story pages disguised in live blog clothing.

A praiseworthy moment occurs in any newsroom when the response to a story breaking is not to stay with the status quo, but rather step back and ask, “How can we best tell this story?”

GlobalNews.ca recently published a feature on the execution of Troy Davis in Georgia using the tool Storify, which allows you to curate the social media dimension of a story by pulling in tweets, videos, links, and photos from Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Twitter—it’s a media junkie’s dream.

By curating user-generated content and interlacing it with the background of Davis’s case, the story of his execution and the desperation of his supporters were revealed in an informative and dynamic way.

It’s the sort of story that screams for the input of non-journalist types. A standard block quote from someone standing outside of the Atlanta prison just wouldn’t have sufficed. It’s arguable that no other form of journalism creates quite as much noise these days as digital news. However, striving to contribute to a story in an innovative and meaningful way can actually achieve the opposite, and much desired, goal of cutting through that noise and bringing clarity and insight to news.

Those media willing to embrace this philosophy, to buck the status quo and think about how to tell the story before spitting out content, will set themselves apart and be heard above the din.

Heather Loney is the Coordinating Producer at GlobalNews.ca. She interned at CBC London after graduating from the Journalism New Media Program at Sheridan Institute of Technology and has a B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Guelph. You can follow Heather on Twitter at www.twitter.com/heatherloney