Small is Beautiful

Interactive Storytelling with Limited Resources

Thomas Schmidt
University of Oregon

There was snowfall, there was a firestorm and the journalistic world watched in awe. These trailblazing interactive projects by the New York Times (Snow Fall) and the Guardian (Firestorm) received abundant praise and worldwide acclaim. Yet, they were also projects initiated and executed by big, international media outlets. Their resources and manpower are typically not available to smaller news organizations.

This paper entitled “Small is Beautiful: Interactive Storytelling with Limited Resources” explores how practices and organizational forms of digital storytelling can be implemented in small and mid-size news organizations. To address these questions, I will present a case study of “Thin Ice: Exploring Mount Hood’s Glacier Caves,” the first big digital storytelling project by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB).

Sociologists of journalism have described journalistic practice as a highly routinized activity, shaped by organizational constraints, limited resources and professional frames. Despite multimedia journalism’s expansion into all fields of news production, the institutional and organizational conditions for it (newsroom policies, business pressures, changing news conventions) have not been studied in a sufficient manner so far.

This paper is informed by James Carey’s call for a “cultural history of journalism” and operationalizes this concept by adapting the Circuit of Culture model (du Gay, Hall, Janes, Mackay, & Negus, 1997; see figure below). As time and resources for this presentation are limited, I will focus on one moment of this model: production. “Production entails the logistical constraints surrounding formation of representations as well as how they come to be ideologically informed.” (Curtin & Gaither 2006, p. 100) For this paper, I will study the conditions (values, practices, economics) that led to creating this particular piece of digital journalism at OPB. I will conduct in-depth interviews (McCracken, 1988) with reporters, developers and editors at OPB. This analysis will help expand our understanding about the way in which organizational norms (newsroom policies, editorial oversight, digital expertise etc.) shape the production of sophisticated, interactive storytelling when resources are limited.


du Gay, P., Hall, S., Janes, L., Mackay, H., & Negus, K. (1997). Doing cultural studies: The story of the Sony Walkman. London: Sage.

Curtin, P. & Gaither, T. K. (2006). Contested Notions of issue identity in international public relations: A case study. Journal of Public Relations Research 18(1), 67-89.

McCracken, G. (1988). The Long Interview. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.