Journalism Takes Many Forms: Analysis of the Billy Baker Tweet Story

For me, Twitter has always been a place to browse the news, engage with friends, and scroll up and down my newsfeed to pass the time. It has never really been a place I saw suitable to telling stories. Yes, I often link to a variety of stories from Twitter, but Twitter itself never seemed like the appropriate medium for storytelling.

However, my mindset has completely changed after reading Billy Baker’s follow-up tweet story. The Boston Globe reporter told the story of two boys who took advantage of every opportunity they had despite growing up in a poverty-stricken area and losing their dad at a young age. By releasing his story in 140-word segments on Twitter, Baker captured the emotion of their story and demonstrated how stories truly can be told in non-traditional narrative ways.

Most importantly, what Baker’s story establishes is the fact that the format and structure of news stories is changing. In “The Genuine Article,” Kira Goldenberg argues that the stories we create have to match with the platforms people are reading them on. She quotes Reuters social media editor, Anthony De Rosa:

I think we need to rethink that article formal and replace it with something that better resembles and takes advantage of the Web, not taking the print format and slapping it in a digital space.

This is exactly what Baker does. Instead of following the traditional inverted pyramid format which emphasizes starting with the newest, most important information, Baker begins his story with a single sentence: “I’m going to tell you a story.” This prompts him to add details in small, chronological segments, engaging followers along the way. The real-time release of his tweets adds a unique factor to the story that gives it a personal touch long-form narratives don’t have.

Baker’s tactic may be non-traditional, but it is most definitely still journalism. In the article “From Blog to Narrative: Josh Benton Throws Us a Curve,” Roy Peter Clark discusses Benton’s research that distinguishes “natural journalism” from “processed journalism.” Processed journalism refers to the traditional long-form narrative journalism, whereas natural journalism emphasizes real-time reporting while the reporter is experiencing the story. He claims:

Natural journalism results from the timeliness and enthusiasm of eyewitness reporting, where interesting events come to the reader with immediacy and a clear point of view.

This type of journalism is in a sense more real. Readers hear from the reporters themselves as the story is unfolding and can feel the emotion in a whole new way.

Finally, even if people didn’t follow the live updates on Baker’s twitter, they were able to read the curated version on Storify. This curation-oriented storytelling approach offers readers a new way to engage with the news and consume stories. In “The Lego approach to storytelling,” Amy Gahran talks about how these tools can make creating stories similar to playing with legos: adding additional content when new stories surface and moving pieces of content around based on you audience. The idea is that reporters have the opportunity to gain even more visibility and interaction by constructing their story in new ways. She claims:

Better packaging tools would help journalists tell extended, engaging stories in ways that are use friendly both for audiences and for content creators.

Courtesy of Google Images

Courtesy of Google Images

With these curation tools, readers were able to experience the tweets from start to finish, which also included the original story written by Baker as well as the video by Lauren Frohne. The bottom line is storytelling is changing and with new mediums and the ability to curate information, there is no single definition of what constitutes journalism. As Billy Baker showed the world, you can tell an inspiring and captivating story anywhere.

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