How Does Social Media Democratize Storytelling?

Democratizing Storytelling

Two events recently made me consider how social media, and specifically the website/service Twitter, are changing the face of storytelling—particularly journalistic storytelling. The events were 1. OccupyPortland and 2. StoryWorld Conference.

1. Occupy Portland

Twitter: #OccupyPortland

I live in Portland. A group representing the OccupyWallStreet political movement decided to march to the Jamison Square public park in Portland’s gentrified Pearl District on October 29th at noon. Many hours later the Portland Police arrived to thwart the protest, which was still making noise after midnight. A group of 27 protesters were peacefully arrested.

Lots of people at the scene photographed, video taped, and tweeted about what was happening. There was also an OccupyWallStreet sponsored live video feed, which was stationed beside the broadcast television news teams. Because people were communicating via Twitter, folks watched the event in real time without having to endure television commercials. It is possible that the whole occurrence went down in a far more humane manor than might have happened had the “world” not been witnessing protesters and police collectively.

Those who watched online participated in a conversation about what was going on as it happened. They shared facts, rumors, opinions, ideas, pros and cons. Everyone was involved. It was sort of like watching a sporting event with the protesters and police as the players. Without social media the non-local “audience” would have had to rely on a commercial television broadcast or read about what happened after the fact. By being able to comment and contribute, spectators participated in the story’s creation.

2. The StoryWorld Conference

Twitter: #swc11

The 2011 StoryWorld Conference took place from October 31st to November 2nd in San Francisco, CA. Though I wanted to go, I was unable to attend. However, thanks to the large amount of people at the event who had smart phones and connected devices, I and many other would-be attendees were able to be virtual participants. Or jealous voyeurs!

I didn’t get to network at lunch or hang out after dinner but I did get to hear some of the key points, poignant lessons, and interesting discussion topics because many of the conference’s talkable concepts were repeated and synthesized through social media. By following it on Twitter, I got to see a comprehensive digest of the event—more information than I could take in. Because there was no central control over the tweeted conversation, the topics naturally flowed from the conference to my eyes. It was almost like being there. Almost. I did tweet with some of the people who were there and with others who wanted to be there. In that way we were a small part of the big story.

Because more and more people own or have access to wireless devices, more and more people are creating content. They needn’t be responsible to cover an event from start to finish. Instead they can craft a single photo or sentence and throw it in to the mix. Many individuals make up the complete story. Social media is changing everything.


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