Why ACOSCast?

Some notes I put together recently about the rationale behind the podcast, publishing here, so I can point others to it:

I want to understand the techniques of storytelling, so that all of us, both as creators and as audiences, can become more literate in storytelling craft. Only by doing so, do I believe that we can better decipher the intent behind the stories being told – and be more effective in communicating with each other.

In each episode, I’ll be exploring a technique or element of storytelling craft from across TV, film, radio and digital media, and considering its’ pros and cons. What does the use of each tool allow a storyteller to do? What effect does it have on those receiving the story? And what are the implications, and consequences, both intended and unintended, when these techniques are used?

Perhaps more importantly, in the wake of Facebook’s ‘fake news’ scandals, and the apparent existential crises within traditional newsrooms, journalists are increasingly looking towards narrative and ‘web native’ storytelling to enthral audiences, build attention, and if you’re lucky, inform, educate and entertain.

It’s for this latter reason, especially, that I believe it’s not good enough just to let ‘storytelling’ remain a buzzword. To let it be dropped into conversations, marketing spiel and job descriptions, without an understanding of what the term actually means, without an appreciation and knowledge for the craft which it entails. Coherent storytelling, quality journalism, and thus a well-informed society, is too crucial to be thrown onto the bonfire of vapidity.

Good storytelling, to me, has an intent, a design, behind it. In visual media, use of lighting, dialogue, sound effects, location, even casting, are all chosen with an intent, to convey a certain message, provoke a particular feeling, understanding, or state in the audience. Even when actors are cast ‘against type’, for example, that is saying something itself.

ACOSCast – Update #001

It’s been a busy few days in ACOS-land (ACOS being the acronym I’ve taken to using for ‘A Craft of Storytelling). Here’s an update on where things stand, and also a little bit about where this whole enterprise came from.

In the beginning was the Moz(fest)

Last weekend (28-29th October), I presented a session at the Mozilla Festival entitled “Beyond the Hero’s Journey: What do we mean when we talk about ‘storytelling’?”. I’ll talk more in episode one about the motivation behind the session, and some of its’ contents, but I was essentially treating it as a dry run.

If more than five people turned up, despite it being on at the same time as another session in the Journalism track around storytelling (focusing on VR, 360 video, binaural audio and…Pokemon Go), then there would probably be enough audience for a podcast around the same subject.

In the end, my guesstimate was about 25-30 attendees – which was fantastic. Thanks to all who came.

The fact there’s a podcast at all comes back to me wanting to do a podcast for about a year or so, now (even going so far as to buy a Zoom H4 recorder), yet lacking a subject that I thought could really motivate me to proceed; and to a conversation with a friend about whether it might be of interest.

Where are we now?

In the last few days, in the aftermath of a cold, I’ve set up this website, a Twitter account (@ACOSCast) and a Facebook ‘Page’.

I’ve been lucky enough to (almost certainly) secure a soundproofed location with decent studio equipment to record in – though actually attempting to record is still yet to happen.

Probably most significantly, I’ve been investigating options for hosting the podcast, and that’s helped me shore up a number of factors. Firstly, I’ll be aiming to keep episodes to between half an hour and forty-five minutes. There may be times when we under-run or overshoot, but starting out, it’s good to have a general target to have.

Settling on the timing, combined with refreshing my understanding of bitrates and file sizes, has allowed me to compare the various possible sites I could use for podcast hosting. I think I’ve settled on Soundcloud, as it gives me enough of what I need, for a decent price – but as things develop I might change my mind.

The tier I’ve chosen gives me the space to upload a maximum of eight forty-five minute episodes every month – and my current plan is to look at a release schedule of a new episode every couple of weeks. This, in turn, means that potentially I can start to plan a year’s worth of episodes.

And from that, I can really start having some fun with what I want to cover in each episode, as well as getting down to the nitty gritty of planning the first few episodes. So that’s the weekend sorted.

One slight setback, was that I had a crazy idea to try and see if I could get permission to use some commercially-released music on the podcast. To their credit, the management of the band (I won’t say whom) got back to me quickly, but it was clear that licensing the music would be prohibitively expensive right now. Which is a shame, as this is very much a passion project, rather than a commercial one, but I wasn’t completely surprised. The upshot is – the search for suitable Creative Commons licensed music starts here.

Finally, something that has sustained my interest in the past few days has been Jessica Abel‘s Out on the Wire – a graphic non-fiction novel about the craft of podcasting. There’s plenty of useful tips and tricks within that I’ll certainly bear in mind when developing the episodes. That said, it is very specific to narrative journalism, which is of course interesting to me for the theme of this podcast, but isn’t necessarily the only style out there. So it’s important to keep a little perspective over how hard and fast the ‘rules’ are – a point which is reinforced in the book itself.

So, in conclusion, full steam ahead for ACOS – and now to really get down to the business of plotting & scripting the first few episodes…

A beginning, of sorts…

I’ve never done this before. Many have. Does the internet really need another podcast?

Let’s find out. Coming soon, A Craft of Storytelling sets out to explore techniques that people who contribute to the production of stories, intentionally use to achieve effects in their audiences.

Whether or not they are successful in such intent, is of course another matter. Unintended consequences occur.

We’ll be examining elements of storytelling craft used across traditional media, i.e. television, radio and film, as well as digital and online things, and asking how they work; what effects they have; what advantages and disadvantages they may present.

Episodes will range from looking at specific techniques, to discussing examples in existing media, to, hopefully, interviews with creators, be they writers, producers, directors, or anyone else involved in the craft.

There is likely, also, to be a particular focus on journalism and digital media – mainly because (as I’ve ranted before), ‘storytelling’ is in grave danger of becoming a meaningless word, through overuse.

The intention behind the podcast itself is to help us all become more literate in the craft of storytelling, both as creators – what are these techniques, and how might you use them – and as audiences – how can I spot these; what is the intent behind them; how does that affect how I understand a story, and so on.

By becoming more literate on both sides of the coin, I hope that we can not only understand what we mean when we use ‘storytelling’ as more than just a buzzword, but also that we become better in our craft, practice and profession, too.

As I say – I’ve never made a podcast before, but have been wanting to for a long time. I’m aware it’ll take a fair amount of work, but I’m hoping that I’ve now committed to something – and this site will act as an open window into the process, as I go about moving from first ideas to completed episodes.

As it stands right now, I have ideas for about 20 episodes, so the next step is to a) sort out the practicalities of recording, and b) work on a settled structure and outline for the first few episodes.

I’m excited, and slightly nervous, but I’m confident that there’s at least a small audience whom this might appeal to, and a wider audience who could find something of interest and relevance in what results.