Credibility no longer rests with TV channels or newspapers. Nobody relates to the media brands anymore. The credible individual will take over, and we will even get a football-style transfer market for the best of them. Not my words, but my notes from Ben Hammersley’s presentation in Bergen last Thursday (more notes here). Right before Hammersley I heard Irshad Manji talk about her Project Ijtihad, and suddenly the connection clicked in. Hammersley’s suggestions for that role of credible storyteller were Anderson Cooper and Jon Stewart. He could just as well have chosen Manji.
There are three qualities that are common to all the best storytelling on the web, Hammersley claimed: It must be personal (speak directly to you), have personality (the credible individual has a clear point of view that is well known to the audience) and bring perspective. Instead of the typically fragmented news story, the story is presented with all relevant context about what has happened before in the issue at hand.
Manji has all these qualities. In fact, her point of view is the vehicle that transports her through all the different communication situations. From conference presentation to TV interview to the website to her own documentary productions and book projects. She juggles all these appearances very professionally, and so her main point couldn’t be communicated more effectively: Democratic forces need to be just as well versed in media strategy as the jihadists. As examples she told us about translating her book into Arabic, Persian and Urdu and posting it on the web for free downloading (200.000 downloads of the Arabic version so far, reactions from readers in Middle East countries who point out the privacy advantage of this distribution instead of the more public physical book), posting a cleric’s defense of interfaith marriage which is then circulated by Muslim women in Europe.
The media need to go back to basics, to their original mission: Tell news stories. And today the web is the best place to do that, Hammersley said. Everything moves to the web, so old media need to give their web presence priority. For at TV channel, that would mean to use traditional TV as trailers for their web pages. And what should we find there? Somewhat jokingly, I thought, he proposed to model news storytelling on the web after heist movies. A team assembles, gets mission explained, we see a flash forward of how the mission should be accomplished, mission is carried out, the team receives a new mission. Apparently, the BBC is working on a format like this to be presented soon. When pressed about examples, Hammersley mentioned: MediaStorm and Magnum. Enjoy.