Pondering the need to reinvent journalism in the digital age, I keep coming back to a working definition offered in a slightly different context by Don Norman in his book “Things That Make Us Smart.”

Talking about the importance of stories, he wrote,

”…Stories are important cognitive events, for they encapsulate in a compact, efficient package – information (facts), knowledge, context, and emotion.”

Building on to that idea, Daniel H. Pink in “A Whole New Mind” describes

“…how the ability to weave events into an emotionally compelling narrative has become an essential aptitude in business, medicine, and personal life.”

He goes on to describe our current time as the “Conceptual Age.” As he describes the possibilities, they are rays of sunshine that stubbornly refuse to be eclipsed by the contemporary storm of economic crisis that has been battering the world for the past two years.

I think it is also very good news for visual journalists who know how to find such stories in the everyday world around us and understand how to frame and shape those stories to express fundamental truths about the human condition alongside specifics of a particular story’s narrative.

Our quest as visual journalists is to observe the world, and change how people see it so as to better understand it. Hopefully, we can use stories as tools to put people in direct touch with those forces and elements at work in the world and reshaping it on a daily basis.

I believe our value as storytellers rests in our ability to answer some basic questions:

  • What is the story we want to tell?
  • Why does that story matter to an audience?
  • Who will pay attention to the story?
  • When is the audience most likely to absorb the story?
  • Where is the most valuable place to present the story?
  • How can we best tell the story?

Framing the pursuit of visual journalism through the prism of these questions may make the process of story discovery and field observation easier to achieve. It may also make the production process clearer and lead us to the best possible mixtures of media elements to convey the essence of the story in the end.

I have watched with fascination as the world described by Pink and Norman continues to emerge, revealing new places where we can use our skills and tools to tell personally meaningful stories of equal value to an audience. To me, that is good news indeed. It offers new horizons and less reason to be afraid of the current economy.