digital storytelling,  japan,  media literacy,  timeless

Tokyo Mell Expo 2008 presentation

There’s an enigma around technology, isn’t there?  Take the mobile phone for example. We used to use just it to make phonecalls; now phones have near-broadcast-quality video cameras on board too. If only there was a way of releasing some more of the potential of technology for the benefit of society…

 Let me start with some questions about this: 

1. What motivation and opportunities could be given to people in Japan to make more use of the creative capacity of their mobile devices and computers? 2. Which ‘forms’ of Digital Storytelling would be most attractive in this country to both author & audience of the content?3. And how could this content be shared with mass audiences?

My name is Gareth Morlais and I work for BBC Wales in the UK as a producer.

Everyone has a story to tell – that’s been central to our ethos at the BBC Capture Wales Digital Storytelling project and that’s what’s led to hundreds of people in Wales learning the skills they need to make their own Digital Story which is shown on BBC platforms – web, radio, TV and interactive.

A digital story is a two-minute broadcast-quality personal story made by the storyteller themself, using their own photos, words and voice.

E.g. Richard Pugh – A Quest for Understanding

Making a Digital Story for the first time often means learning at least two kinds of skills that may be new to the individual:
1. Technical – this is the new skill which is most often cited in connection with media literacy, digital exclusion and skilling for the knowledge economy in Wales.
2. Narrative – this is usually sadly underrated.

I feel that the skills of organising and relating experience in the form of a story can be as important in the knowledge economy as the technical skills. These skills of storytelling are harder to learn than technical. Learning in a group – workshop of ten people – is what we’ve found works best.

Here’s why I feel this is important, from the point of view of the individual citizen, the audience and the mass media, especially a public service broadcaster like the BBC. This is based on our experience in Wales, but I hope some of this may resonate with the experience you have in Japan.


1. To the mass audience.
– A feeling of being reflected on the mass media.
– Fresh, surprising, diverse content.

2. To the broadcaster / publisher.
– Promotes media literacy in Wales.
– It’s a self-authored voice for all kinds of people on BBC Wales’s web, radio and TV platforms.
– Helps to spread the skills of storytelling.
– A good way of getting to know the audience and to work alongside them and with grass-roots organisations in the community. These partnerships can lead to other things too…

3. To the individual author.
– New skills.
– People report a feeling of having exceeded expectations and surprising themselves.
– A truer voice on the mass media, compared with other content made by publisher.

Here’s an example of what I mean by ‘truer voice’. Compare two approaches to a news story to show how much more empowering Digital Storytelling is, because of where the ownership of the story rests:

Case 1 – A traditional TV news story about cancer. Scientists in white coats, mother of a boy who died of cancer being filmed on the family sofa, reacting tointerview questions, leafing through family photograph album …
Case 2 – Gaynor Clifford – Castle on a Cloud – a 2002 Digital Story by the mother of a boy who died of cancer. She based her story on questions her son asked her when he was thinking about his future.

Here’s the process we’ve used to help a group of ten people to make their stories over three or four days. Finished stories are 250 words, around 12 images, two minutes long. This model has come to be know as the ‘classic Digital Story’.

1. Recruitment. Always the most difficult part. Showing existing Digital Stories in a community setting is most effective. We apply principles of diversity in selecting Digital Storytelling workshop participants.

2. Briefing. Letting storytellers know what to expect in a reassuring way.

3. Storycircle. A whole day in a group working on and offering help with everyone’s story. No computers today.

4. Everyone records their story.

5. Introduction to the computers and equipment.

6. Taking digital photos and scanning images from own personal collection.

7. Editing. Learning to use video editing software to synchronise images with the audio recording of their story.

8. Sharing the stories at an end-of-workshop group screening, via a personal DVD copy and by publishing on web and TV.

‘Classic Digital Storytelling’ is evolving and new forms have emerged from it. We still consider them to be Digital Stories if they meet these criteria by Lisa Heledd and Mandy Rose:
1. A strong story; a clear narrative the audience will engage with.
2. Transferral of skills.
3. Ownership rests with author.

Here are some examples:

FORM 1 – Shoebox story
Can be made in one or two days. Shorter, based on objects brought to the workshop in a shoebox.
E.g. Alan Jeffreys – A Dog’s Life
FORM 2 – In the Frame
Images from disposable film cameras. Storytellers react (unscripted) to photos they took. A powerful tool for citizenship.
E.g. Mel’s campaigning piece about her school
Selma Chalabi facilitated this story as part of ‘If I Were and AM’ – an AM is a Welsh politician.

FORM 3 – Archive
In the Rhondda Lives! project, BBC Wales partnered with Valleys Kids charity and National Screen and Sound Archive to mix personal storytelling with archive film of the Rhondda Valley. This is an attractive way of releasing new value and exposing archive footage, artifacts, etc. Attractive to museums as well as TV companies.
E.g. Gillian Thomas – Hiraeth

FORM 4 – Mobile Story
Outline history of and show examples of experiments with mobile phone forms. These Welsh-language ones are from a February 2008 workshop for a youth programme called Mosgito:
Abi – Bywyd ar y fferm – about living on a farm


RhysW – Grefi yn y Coffi – about someone who plays jokes on people

FORM 5 – Sensecam
BBC Wales worked with Microsoft Research Centre to test how a wearable camera might be used. Here’s a film called Day2 I made about my own experience of wearing the Sensecam. It’s intended as a reflective film rather than a narrative story.

We can speculate about some features of future forms. I think we’re likely to see device shrinkage, with better on-board editing functionality and more explicit linkage to location and the continuing shift to online editing and storage. The real challenges though are around motivating people to unleash the potential of what they hold in their hand and ensuring that access to the skills needed to do this are as universally available as possible.

I’d like to share some observations distilled from the last seven years…


1. Build in sustainability.
– Court and involve prospects in workshops.
– Run training the trainers sessions.
– Urge new trainers to make another story alone before beginning to train others.
– Form partnerships and offer to publish their work non-exclusively.
– Capitalise on the snowflake-effect of building partnerships.

2. Agree on your ethos, as a team.
– Ways of working with people.
– Ownership of content.
– Etc.

3. Choose performance indicators wisely.
– Acknowledge value issues around working face-to-face.
– Compare ‘cost per story’ with ‘cost per hour of TV’.
– Case studies can be powerful justifiers of spending.
– Emphasise what you do which YouTube doesn’t.

4. Recruiting participants is the hardest part.
– Showing stories in the community is the best way to recruit.

5. Story is key.
– It’s the specific, sensory-driven stuff that we connect with.
– Even if you teach the technology one-to-one, the storytelling bits work best in a group.
– You know it’s a good story if you can enjoy it with your eyes closed.

6. There needs to be a skills exchange (media literacy), so try to teach people to use something they’ll be able to go home and use again later.
– Their own mobile phone as a capture device.
– Web-based tools to edit, store and publish.

7. Have a clear plan and stick to it.
– Let participants know which media form you’re asking them to make.
– Know and state your editorial proposition E.g personal, 1st person (I, my, we…), fact not fiction, etc.
– Work as a group where possible, ensuring everyone’s devices are set up to look and perform exactly the same, as far as possible.

8. Lower barriers to entry by adapting your plan to offer a choice of forms.
– Have a toolkit of forms. E.g. story in one weekend, story in an hour a week over six weeks, etc.

9. Ask people to use their own stuff in their story.
– This makes it personal and avoids rights problems.

10. Diversity really works.
– In the make-up of the people in the group (age, background, etc.)
– In the range of story subjects
– Avoid themed workshops, e.g. for ‘people with depression’.

11. Document, refine and share your ways of working.
– E.g.

12. Finally, once again, story is key.


When technology meets storytelling via skillful facilitation in a group setting with mass media hungry to show the results – heaven!

I’ll end by addressing the three challenges I set out at the beginning of my presentation:1. What motivation and opportunities could be given to people in Japan to make more use of the creative capacity of their mobile devices and computers? This is an appeal to the representatives of grass-roots community organisations of Japan who are in the audience today. I’ve shown examples of Digital Stories and how making one can have a powerful effect on the individual author. Can you see ways in which Digital Storytelling might be able to help you achieve your organisation’s aims? Can you find ways of linking up with other organisations, trainers and broadcasters to set up a project of your own?2. Which ‘forms’ of Digital Storytelling would be most attractive in this country to both author & audience? Well I’m not the best person to answer to this question, because Japanese culture and values are new to me. But what I’ve just done is to show you examples that have worked in Wales and on BBC Wales. And I hope that’s triggered some new ideas of what might work here in Japan and other Asian countries.3. How could this content be shared with mass audiences? This is a challenge to the broadcasters and mass media companies in the audience. One thing I can say about Digital Stories is that showing them to your audiences is a great way of demonstrating greater relevance in this fast-changing landscape.Whether or not you decide to get involved in this, these are exciting times. The fact that organisations like Media Exprimo, Mell Expo, MoDe, Japanese Universities and grass-roots organisations and broadcasters have come here to Mell Expo 2008 to investigate how the technology of Japan can be harnessed for the good of the people is a great thing. And I wish you every good wish on this exciting journey.



My background is in radio social action broadcasting, in public service broadcasting at the BBC and with commercial broadcasters in Wales (Coast FM) and in Sri Lanka (TNL Radio)

Before Digital Stories, there was BBC Video Nation (1993) which pioneered self-authored, personal storytelling in the form of video diaries. I didn’t work on this but I remember the good impression this made on me at the time.

In 2001, I heard Daniel Meadows of Cardiff University speak at the BBC. He showed his digital story Polyphoto. This is the point at which I decided I wanted to be part of this project because it was the first time I’d seen a format for personal storytelling where the author chose the story, visuals and actually edited it themself.

Daniel Meadows had made Polyphoto at the Center for Digital Storytelling in California, in a workshop run by Joe Lambert. This was at a time one of the pioneers and founders of digital stories passed away: Dana Atchley. Dana’s digital story Home Movies is one of my favourites.

Daniel came on secondment to the BBC as part of a partnership between BBC Wales and Cardiff University. BBC Capture Wales was born, edited by Mandy Rose – one of BBC Video Nation’s founders. Joe Lambert and Nina Mullen were invited to come to Wales to run training the trainers sessions. That’s when I made my first story and joined the new Capture Wales team as a trainer and as producer of the website In 2005, I became the project producer and started a personal blog called Aberth Digital Storytelling –

Our strategy has always been to try make Digital Storytelling a sustainable proposition in Wales. We always planned to run fewer and fewer workshops ourselves as more and more community organisations began offering Digital Storytelling opportunities. Examples of Digital Storytelling projects in Wales include Breaking Barriers, Yale Centre for Digital Storytelling, Coleg Sir Gar and Canllaw Online.

BBC Wales planned to stop running monthly workshops one day and that day came at the beginnin of April 2008. Two of our team have moved on assignment to the George Ewart Evans Centre for Storytelling at the University of Glamorgan, where the production activity and innovation continues with the aim of setting up a Centre for Excellence in Digital Storytelling there. Back at the BBC, the focus will be on offering to publish the stories that are being produced around Wales.

In 2001, only Capture Wales was helping people to make Digital Stories in Wales; now, there are over 70 organisations in Wales that are doing it or have been funded for a project that involves an element of Digital Storytelling. Almost 700 people have made their Digital Story with BBC Wales and, if you look at all projects around Wales, the figure’s well over 2,000. I think this kind of planned sustainability with inbuilt self-redundancy is a remarkable model for a broadcaster, and I’d personally like to see more of it.
Gareth Morlais, Cardiff, Wales,  April 2008



“0.16% of YouTube users upload to YouTube” (Heard in a presentation about media literacy by Ewan McIntosh. From the Guardian, May 2007)

“Watching a digital story is a little like taking a walk on a dark night past a house where the owner has left the curtains open and the lights on – you get a special glimpse of life inside.” – Gilly Adams, Capture Wales, at a meeting with Digital Storytellers in Cardiff, March 2008

“Right now there are more than 300 million people around the world watching video content online. It’s a fundamental shift that completely democratises our business.” Peter Chernin, News Corp. (Heard in a presentation by Jon Gisby. From )

UK media regulator OFCOM defines media literacy as: “the ability to access, understand and CREATE communications in a variety of contexts”. I think it’s great that the word ‘create’ appears.

University of Tokyo’s Shin Mizukoshi’s definition is even better, because it speaks of individual authors, and is explicit about the fact that one needs both the equipment and the skills to create: “Activities for independent communication via media in an information society, and the technologies and knowledge that support these activities” – .

Significant developments since 2000 – broadcasters welcoming content from audiences, social media like YouTube, online applications, increase of capture resolution of small devices (Nokia N93, Zoom H2, etc.), embedding content in many places, etc.

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