Alt-Media: The ‘Bad Boy’ model of publishing

Screenshot by Erwin Oliva
Screenshot of Fliboard on my iPhone

How do you make content that young people actually give a s#$%^ about?

This was a question that dogged me for years in Yahoo! As a country editor for the Philippines of the oldest Internet startup (that I made up), that question was asked a zillion times. I even had a deck done, and redone. What do young people want? Do they even care about news (Yes, they do!)

I’ve recently been Flip-ing through Anthony Moor’s Flipboard magazine called “News in transition.” Moor is from Yahoo! and I wished I met him while I was in the company. Anyhow, Flipboard exists only on mobile and you can download it using your Android or iPhone. I happen to stumble upon a story in his Flipboard magazine called “The Bad Boy Brand.” It’s a New Yorker story about Vice, a publishing company that touts to be made for the millenials. (I’m a big fan of New Yorker, btw).

As I read through the story by Lizzie Widdicombe, ideas came rushing. Gonzo journalism. Hunter S. Thompson. MTV. Wired. Utne Reader. Thanks to a good friend of mine back in the day when I was still doing medical journalism, I’ve always been fascinated with the weird —  the “news on the edge” type –and this is the tagline that Vice wants. It is content made for the young.

They aim to provoke. But at the same time, that provocation leads to curiosity, and curiosity leads to attraction. So let Vice show you what I mean.

‘Online media can help newspapers tell better stories’

I found myself sitting in a new and cold lecture hall in Ateneo this morning, listening to American associate professor Janet Steele who shared her insights about narrative journalism. (It so happens that I’ve bought a book titled, The New Kings of Non-Fiction, an anthology of well-written stories done by known and unknown journalists, several months ago).

The lecture was attended by students, professors, and journalists who sat for more than two hours, listening to her interesting talk on narrative journalism in the age of new media. Questions were raised. One question pointed to the role narrative journalism in the age of new media. Ms. Steele said that online media can help newspapers tell better stories. She picked examples from the Washington Post, which I believe is one of her favorite American newspapers.

Her words got me thinking, how far have we Filipino journalists used narrative style in reporting news? Just a brief explanation. Narrative journalism or reporting uses literary devices to tell a story. It’s not your usual inverted pyramid, which has been the practice for decades.

Ms. Steele gave some examples she picked from, well, Washington Post. As she read the lines from these narrative journalism pieces, it was evident that good journalists can turn simple news into a wonderful piece of non-fiction that allows readers to better understand the context of stories. They learn about characters, the scenes, the multiple perspectives, and the of course, the story.

One question was raised: has narrative reporting changed how journalism is done in newspapers? Hard to say, she said. But it was evident that narrative reporting is a technique being used to captivate readers, at least in the US.

Check this excerpt from the New Kings of Non-Fiction, and understand how good storytellers can turn straight news into a literary piece.

Finally, Ms. Steele pointed out:

“There is still a place for narrative stories in an online age. They bring all stories in a multimedia package. But nothing replaces good reporting no matter what platform is used.”