How to effectively use Storify as a news reporting tool: An experiment in my digital journalism class

For effective use of Storify as a tool for news reporting or digital storytelling, some basic journalistic and web-writing guidelines should be employed.

Below is screenshot of a sample Storify news story I discussed with students in my digital journalism class. This story can use some improvements – in its current form, it is basically a chronological compilation of tweets. Use your mouse to scroll down on the screenshot for a quick look of the story; if the screenshot is not displayed properly on your computer, view it in a separate page:

Using this story as an illustration, we discussed the following guidelines for effective Storify news reporting, drawing on what we learned in the news reporting class and the web writing class:

  1. the story should have a structure: similar to a regular print news article, a Storify news story should also have a structure; or at least, it should break down to several sections, with each section focusing on a specific sub-topic.
  2. the story should have depth/context: to write a print news article, a reporter needs to conduct research/interview to collect information and write those information into the article to help reader understand the subject. In a Storify story, there also needs to be some background materials.
  3. the story could use some web-writing techniques: a Storify story is being presented on the web, and this demands some attention to writing techniques that facilitate on-screen reading. As I discussed in another post, some typical web writing techniques are short paragraphs, clear structure, informative subheads, etc.
  4. try building the story around a theme/focus: in addition to using social media contents to “describe” an event or activity, see if there’s a theme or topic you can “report.” As an example, in a Storify assignment, instructor Maureen Boyle at Stonehill College asked students to cover winter storm Nemo in February 2013. Among the sample student works, Nemo Finds Stonehill College, Snow Storm Nemo Leaves Stonehill Students in Frustration, Blizzard Nemo Hits Stonehill, the one that talks about student frustration is more like a reporting work – it focuses on a newsworthy theme and has contents to expand on that theme.

I designed a Storify assignment in my digital journalism class in fall 2012. The assignment was for every student to take photos, videos and audios of GCU’s homecoming events, share them on the web, and then tweet to the class hashtag. Then every student was asked to create a Storify story by selecting and putting together contents created and shared by the whole class. On top of that, students were asked to conduct interview and research for necessary information.

Below is a sample student work. Scroll down on the screenshot to see how the student leads the story with an intro, breaks the story into several sections, writes a subhead for each section, and provides necessary background information in each section. If the screenshot doesn’t display properly, view it in a separate page:

Update: when I shared this post on Twitter, Justin Graeber, the reporter who created the sample Storify story in my post, responded and graciously said he is glad to be part of the learning experience – my thanks to Justin for his experiment with Storify.

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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11 Responses to How to effectively use Storify as a news reporting tool: An experiment in my digital journalism class

  1. lizhannaford says:

    Thanks for this. It’s very timely! I’m just planning a Storify project from my MA International and Online Journalism students here at the University of Salford, UK. We’re going to use the forthcoming Kenyan elections as our story so they’ll need to do a little background research to get up to speed on that. Their first task is to create their own newswire on the story by creating a useful Twitter list. Then some preparation work (your guidelines here are very helpful) before embarking on the actual project – producing a Storify story.

    • mulinblog says:

      Thanks for the comments. Let me know your thoughts and experience from your MA class project as to how the “guidelines” I mentioned can be improved.

      • I’m adding two guidelines which I think will help my particular students with this task:-

        – your sources should have credibility: ask yourself why you are using a particular piece of material. Is the person close to the story? Is their opinion based on some knowledge/experience that makes it worth including?
        – It should look good: Ideally, you should have some visual/audio material to add interest.

        We’re doing this activity on Tuesday 12th Feb. I’m excited and nervous!!!

        • mulinblog says:

          Do you also have requirements for how they write their tweets? I think this is also an important issue in a live-tweting assignment. I had issues with how students were writing the tweets and I just wrote a post listing out some guidelines for tweet-writing next time I teach the class.

          • lizhannaford says:

            They weren’t live tweeting so, no, I didn’t go into this with them. They were curating the story after the event. As luck would have it (and it really was luck!), the first ever Kenyan presidential debate took place the afternoon before the class so we had a really good story to get our teeth into. It was a major trending topic and Kenyans LOVE social media so there was no shortage of material.
            The exercise was hampered by most of the students not doing the pre work beforehand so I had to spend a lot of time explaining how Storify works, helping them set up accounts etc. I’d also wanted them to look beforehand at the examples of good curation I’d sent them but, again, that didn’t happen. Lesson learnt? 🙁
            But when we finally got going, I was pleased with the way most of the students tackled the project. Some of them were unsure whether this had any real journalistic merit so I had to show them examples of real news organisations curating stories.
            We also looked at other curations of the Kenyn debate on Storify to see what we liked and did not like in other people’s examples.
            But at least one student caught the bug. First thing the following morning, he tweeted me a link to a Storify he’d done about the competition to name Pluto’s moons.
            So I’m glad I trialled this exercise in class. But next time, I wouldn’t be so reliant on the students doing the prep work beforehand. Grrr.

  2. Jerry Zurek says:

    Your Homecoming Storify is a great example. I find it especially effective since all your assets were produced by journalists. In my experience using Storify to document the n”Nuns on the Bus” campaign this summer, I was often at a loss because I was curating the tweets, etc. of random people. The tweets, FB posts, etc., often didn’t have the video, photos, clear writing, that I would have liked. See . It might be a good exercise for students to analyze more effective and less effective uses of Storify. Thanks, as always, for your post.

    • mulinblog says:

      Thanks for the comments. I completely agree with you that it’s more difficult to create a Storify story using random user-generated contents (tweets). So with your input, I guess my “guidelines” are better suited for planned events with a group of (even slightly trained) people generating the contents. Hmm, it may even be a good class activity for kids in grade schools.

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  5. I. C. Clinton says:

    Thank you for writing this article, Dr. Mu Lin. I have learned valuable lessons from it. I am going to read your other articles as well. I only wish you had an e-mail address here by which I can contact you for some questions. Keep up the good work!

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