From Facebook Live to data widgets: Digital storytelling brings Remembrance Sunday to an online audience

Remembrance Sunday is one the most traditional of occasions — bringing communities together to remember those who gave everything for their country. The challenge for local journalism is to ensure that the sacrifices continue to be remembered, and for newsrooms within the Reach network, digital storytelling tools and techniques are helping reporters do just that…

The story of a ‘Welsh Tommy’ was told by WalesOnline, 100 years after so many gave their lives in the Great War

It’s perhaps the most modern aspects of modern life in our 21st century world: The power to share information — words, pictures or video - at the tap of a few keys on your mobile phone.

If digital coverage of this weekend’s Armistice commemorations would have been unimaginable less than 20 years ago, then it must have been beyond even the imaginations of the wildest of fiction writers back in 1918.

Radio was yet to launch, cinema was still in its infancy and the idea of a moving images being broadcast into every home in the land was still decades away from becoming a possibility. A world where anyone could say anything, to anyone cuts a stark contrast to 1918 Britain, where many of those who went to war weren’t even previously allowed to vote.

Yet in 2018, it seemed only appropriate to use all the tools at our disposal to ensure that events being held to remember the sacrifice of so many reach the biggest number of people as possible.

That meant finding ways to tell stories which stopped people in their tracks, made them want to click, and also going to where readers were spending their day online. That, often, is still Facebook.

Facebook Lives of Remembrance Sunday parades at cenotaphs around the country were at the heart of plans at Reach newsrooms, such as these below:

Manchester

Birmingham

Hull

Huddersfield:

Cardiff:

Teesside

Plymouth

Derbyshire

But coverage of such an occasion has to be about more than reporting on what’s going on.

Helping readers to get involved was also a key part of the planning too — which is why so many newsrooms within Reach ran live blogs throughout the day, covering events as they happened but also providing information to readers about road closures, timings, and, crucially, background information too.

The live blogs, such as this one from Kent Live, combined regular text updates, as well as video and still images,

Image galleries, a blend of staff, photographer and reader submitted, were updated throughout the day, such as this one in Cheshire. At Stoke-on-TrentLive, 10 communities had events covered in this gallery.

Articles which gave advance notice of events taking place were particularly well received too, such as this one from NottinghamshireLive.

100 years after the end of the war, it’s probably more important than ever to keep finding new ways of telling the stories of what happened, to ensure what happened is never forgotten.

Reach has a trending video unit based in Birmingham which produces video which supports newsrooms across the UK. It produced videos which supported local content, which have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times:

Poppy poem video:

How the end of the War was reported:

The story of the Great War

At WalesOnline, stories such as ‘The heartbreaking map which shows how an entire community was decimated by war’ told how 480 people from just 71 streets lost their lives during the First World War, while ‘The heartbreaking stories from one parish that lost 125 men in World War One’ looked at the impact in just one small area of Cardiff.

Private William O’Brien — aka a Welsh Tommy

WalesOnline also published ‘The story of a Welsh Tommy’ — a simple headline with a powerful story, reflecting what happened to so many people during the First World War.

Individual stories also generated a lot of attention in Manchester, where the story of the soldier who played for Manchester United and Manchester City before dying on the Somme was especially poignant on the day of the football Derby in the city.

Perhaps the enormity of the losses endured by the British is best visualised through the presentation of names. GloucestershireLive, through two videos, produced a roll-call of the 8,000 men the county lost to the Great War, using data collated by Gloucestershire Cathedral from every war memorial in the county.

In Cornwall, the county site CornwallLive ran an interactive map with the locations of every man killed from Cornwall during the First World War.

Sticking with an interactive theme, the Liverpool Echo produced an immersive storytelling project called ‘Merseyside’s war’, which looked at the final days of the War, and the impact it had on the Echo’s region:

Several years ago, Reach’s data unit worked with the Commonwealth War Graves to produce a widget which let people learn who from their street had died in the First World War. Viewed millions of times since, it has proved popular once again as people seek to understand what the war meant in their community:

If there is one theme which has captured the imagination more than most, it’s coverage of tributes away from the main events. Also in Gloucestershire ‘ghost’ statues in a graveyard generated a lot of reaction, while in Newcastle, ChronicleLive reported on 22 poppy-clad memorials which had been created across its region. Community displays for Remembrance Sunday were also collated by Stoke-on-Trent Live here.

The Stoke newsroom also helped ensure that one town in its patch had a bugler to play The Last Post today, thanks to this Twitter post:

The challenge for digital journalists is how to capture the same message that a strong print front page can deliver. The packaging, the words, the choice of images can come together in a way in print which is hard to repeat online.

Maybe today’s homepage of the Manchester Evening News shows it can still be done though. The platforms might be evolving, but the message remains the same: We’ll never forget.

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