Tips from the TruthBuzz Webinar: Surprise us

Cassie Balfour
Apr 18, 2017 · 4 min read

How can you craft a winning TruthBuzz entry? Surprise us. That was the consensus between judges during a recent webinar hosted by ICFJ’s director of innovation and TruthBuzz judge, Oren Levine. The live conversation featured TruthBuzz judges Aimee Rinehart, writer and editor at First Draft News, and Shaheryar Popalzai, an ICFJ Knight fellow from Pakistan.

We rounded-up some highlights from the webinar below and you can watch the full broadcast above.

Creating Shareable Content: Aristotle and Audience

Aside from the truisms that, when it comes to creating sharable content, shorter is better and visual storytelling has more impact than text, how can applicants make the case that their entry has the potential to reach a wide audience?

“One of the biggest things is we want to be surprised. We want rich information but conveyed in a way that surprises us.” Rinehart went on to say that the best content employs that, “old argument structure of logos, ethos and pathos.” Explaining that entries should, in addition to being backed up by the truth, be professionally developed. So make sure there are no mics in the frame or “sloppy code” and that projects also tap into the audience’s emotions.

Popalzai stressed that although “content is king,” it is important for applicants to explore new platforms and that the platform they’re choosing is tailor-made for their target audience. He urged applicants to look beyond “the usual suspects of Twitter and Facebook,” and consider experimenting with Snapchat or WhatsApp.

The judges also talked about how it is important to reach audiences where they are, with Rinehart highlighting that since so many people are now getting their news on mobile phones, that entries should be mobile responsive.

Balancing Virality with Accuracy

The judges also grappled with how applicants can navigate maintaining a balance between creating entries that have viral potential and are also anchored to truth, with Levine saying, “of course if you end up with 15 footnotes on your GIF, it’s going to be kind of hard to see the image. On the other hand, if there is no context at all, it’s going to be hard for the viewer to trust you or your information.”

Rinehart advised that to maintain this balance, applicants should stay focused. “Don’t try to bring down an entire regime or an entire topic. Rather explore one component of a story fully … and for this contest, the underlying story will win. By best story we mean true, verifiable and engaging,” she said.

Telling Powerful Stories doesn’t have to be Complicated

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And you don’t have to be a programmer or have a big budget to create a winning entry. The judges all listed free resources anyone can experiment with to create engaging projects. As Rinehart said,“before you endeavor to your project, there is probably an app for it or a shortcut for it.” Click here to read a round-up of free tools, resources and more examples of compelling and effective projects.

Levine pointed to ProPublica’s recent Tweetstorm, where the organization responded to criticism, as an example of an unconventional and compelling way to spread the truth without using complicated technology. Saying these were, “tweets which told a cogent story, they hit on ethos, logos and pathos in 140 characters.”

The judges ended the discussion by challenging the applicants to create powerful stories, with Rinehart saying,“if you’re not surprised we won’t be surprised. We really like to be challenged when judging these and to really talk about the merits of the story … So good luck to everybody.”

We are no longer accepting applications for TruthBuzz.

TruthBuzz FAQ:

  • Can I create an entry in another language?
  • Yes. Entries are accepted in all languages, but the application form is in English
  • Can I present multiple entries?
  • Yes you may. Use a separate entry form for each one.
  • I have a project that is already published that is perfect for this, can I still apply?
  • Of course. Please include a link to your existing work on the entry form
  • Can I use a pre-existing tool to create my entry, or do I have to build one from scratch?
  • Existing tools are OK. How can you use existing tools in a new way?
  • If I know my project will be shared and resonate in my country, does it have to be global?
  • No, we’re also open to messages that are relevant in one country or region, especially if they demonstrate models that can be applied elsewhere.
  • How much can you do if you have limited resources?
  • Up to you — the focus is on the storytelling, not necessarily the technology. Check out this round-up of free tools for ideas.

Still have questions? Email Johanna Carrillo or Cassie Balfour at

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