5 Examples of Transmedia Storytelling and Activism

Donna Hancox

Posted filed under Resource.
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At the start of the year our Australian Project Editor, Donna Hancox, wrote a piece for us on Transmedia Storytelling and Social Changedescribing how digital technology has provided certain communities and activists with the means to quickly create and widely disseminate stories. To follow on from this she has written up 5 examples of this sort of activism:

Transmedia storytelling and transmedia activism both afford and demand new approaches to telling our stories.  Contemporary transmedia utilises multiple tools to engage audiences by creating stories that offer unique approaches to narrative, character, setting and innovative ways of looking at social issues. Here are 5 of the best recent examples.

Welcome to Pinepoint was borne of nostalgia for a town that no longer existed and the lost art of remembering through photo albums.  As a transmedia project it differs from older more traditional projects by existing entirely online, but sits easily alongside the more contemporary transmedia in which the notion of separate platforms is replaced by a range of storytelling techniques using text, sound, photographs and film to create a layered experience for the audience. This project does not immediately appear to be explicitly activist in its approach; it feels much more like a personal story. However, as with the other projects mentioned here, Welcome to Pine Point combines personal narrative with innovative storytelling techniques to invite audiences to connect with issues portrayed, and in this case to consider the ways in which we capture and honour our memories.

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The Hollow is a community participatory project bringing together documentary, digital storytelling, photography, audio and interactive data mapping on a HTML5 website to explore the social and economic devastation of McDowall, a rural town in West Virginia.  At the centre of the project are around thirty stories made about and by the residents of McDowall that provide a context and personal perspective around the broader issue of the social and economic disintegration of rural communities, and the efforts by the people who live in those communities to tell their stories with dignity and in their own way. The Hollow has much in common with Welcome to Pine Point in its intentions and celebration of ordinary voices. New expressions of transmedia storytelling allow for projects to exist in ecology of storytelling and to choose aesthetics and methods that most effectively tell their stories and portray the participants in those stories.

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Highrise was created to ‘see how the documentary process can drive and participate in social innovation rather than just to document it’ and the result is a many media collaborative experimental, interactive documentary. Highrise is not one self-contained project rather it is a series of projects that together create a multi-faceted view of what it means to be an urban species and homes in on a particular tower block in Canada to investigate what occurs when the residents of a high rise are provided with means to create a better version of urban living. The result is a 3D immersive documentary powered by HTML5 and other open source JavaScript libraries. In the same vein as Welcome to Pine Point and The Hollow, Highrise (and its components Out my Window and The One Millionth Tower) have found new ways – through re-mixing existing media and through new software – to articulate the stories of marginalised or overlooked voices in exciting and authentic ways.

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Lowlifes consciously blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction in an experiment by producer Rob Pratten. This project tells the story of drug addicted San Francisco cop Larry Hayes and his fight to save his career, his life and his family. The other two characters in Lowlifes are Haye’s ex-wife Jennifer and the private detective she has hired Lauren Ortega. The story is set in and around the Tenderloin in San Francisco (which is almost a character in itself in the story) and uses three distinct storytelling styles for each of the characters. Larry’s story is told through a novella in the tradition of the hard-boiled detective novels from the early twentieth century by writers such as Dashiell Hammett (who lived and wrote in the Tenderloin), Jennifer’s story is told through a series of blog posts, her Facebook page and her Twitter account and Lauren’s story is a series of webisodes shot on the streets of San Francisco while looking for evidence on Larry.  Pratten uses each of these to their fullest potential and they are perfectly suited to the character. Lowlifes is also interesting in its approach to social activism.  Traffic from the Lowlifes site is directed onto the Coalition for the Homeless San Francisco website where the audience can explore ways to become involved with the not for profit organisation. Also the business model for Lowlifes means that all the content is available as paid and free media, and is licensed under a Creative Commons agreement meaning readers can add their own content.

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Half the Sky is a movement dedicated to addressing the challenges facing women and girls globally such as sex trafficking, forced prostitution, gender based violence, maternal morality and poverty. The campaign began as a book of the same name in 2009 by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn that has been amplified by a four hour television series for PBS in America and a Facebook game and mobile games.  Audiences are encouraged to get involved in multiple ways and to share their stories.

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Donna Hancox is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Literary Studies at Queensland University of Technology and Australian Project Editor of The Writing Platform.