Multimodality: The Art of Storytelling

Bringing journalism to your fingertips.

Multimodality … what is it? How does it incorporate into storytelling? Why should it be adopted? In this post I will be answering all of these burning questions on the topic.

What is it?

Well, multimodality is the art of telling a story using various modes such as images, music, video, speech and text.

It was defined by the academic Günther Kress as follows:

“Multimodality refers to the interplay between different representational modes, for instance, between images and written/spoken word”

Why does it matter?

In the field of journalism, you must be capable of being able to report a story to your audience in an engaging and efficient fashion. Ben Lang who is an online journalist echoed this notion as he stated in his digital article:

“Engaging with readers is a fundamental part of journalism, and vital to driving thoughtful discourse”

If a journalist practices multimodality then the narrative can become far more engaging than just using traditional text. This approach also helps journalists in appealing to a wider audience with different learning types. Many people tend to be auditory or visual learners for example so they can benefit more from this style of storytelling.

Something else which outlines the relevance of this style is that it can allow better audience interactions. The use of video clips, links and polls can make the consumption of stories easier to read and digest.

For digital journalism it seems that multimodality is the perfect fit when you want to tell a story online. In this section I am going to talk to you about multimodal storytelling on Instagram and what my experience of it was.

The Process of Storytelling

Storytelling is an interactive way of using words and actions to inspire the reader or listeners imagination of events through the use of social media, conversations, websites, music, films and books. In the modern world, storytelling has transformed due to the rise of the internet and social media. The new age of storytelling is often described as digital storytelling which uses multimedia tools to bring narratives to life.

Naturally, multimodality and the art of storytelling go hand in hand. I wanted to understand more about multimodality, so I researched the theory to find out more.

The Storytelling Evolution

When the internet started in the late 90’s, it was a slow start as the internet was still at its early stages with minimal engagement. There was however a lot of ambition that was put against the limited technology capacity of the internet.

The short hand blog explained that as technology approached the noughties, content being published on the internet rapidly advanced as the introduction of Google and social media platforms skyrocketed engagement and let just about anyone distribute content online. For the first time in history, anyone can tell a story and have a voice.

Photo by Caio

Multimodality: The Breakdown

The theorist Günther Kress (as mentioned previously) was an Australian semiotician who led the literature on multimodality. This blog page helped to summarise Günther’s framework of approach by stating:

“Instead, we move towards a view of multimodality in which common semiotic principles operate in and across different modes”

This perspective suggests that the changes in technology requires writers to use dynamic and interpretive semiotics across flexible and variable modes in order to engage with their readers. All journalists must adapt to the ever evolving technological changes in order to be engaging and informative.

The page then summarised:

“Multimodality is moving into the centre of practical communicative action”

This new variable and dynamic environment of storytelling allows storytellers to openly select whatever mode of communication that they desire for the process of encoding and decoding.

The 4 Different Types of Multimodal Learning Photo by Kennedy

So, Why Multimodality?

via YouTube [Jeff Bezemer]

In this video posted by Teresa Baker, Berit Henriksen has a conversation with Günther Kress about the reasons that we should adopt a multimodal approach.

I think the most important takeaway from this video is when he said:

“Writing merely gives you a partial account of what’s going on, it’s like sentences being partially completed”

This quote summarises the importance of storytelling in its various forms and signposts how journalists need to adapt to the multimodal environments that have developed.

According to an American study, our attention spans are being diminished by quick access to social media platforms and devices. This further outlines the need for a multimodal approach for journalists that need to tell important stories.

Multimodality for Instagram Stories

Instagram stories allow journalists and writers the freedom to post a huge variety of content, people can post anything they want to without ruining the aesthetic of their Instagram feed. Stories are also great because they allow creative curation that allows you to utilise polls, images, videos, gifs and music which will inadvertently help you to engage with your audience.

An article from the University of Illinois stated that multimodality:

“Keeps focus better since more senses are being used to process information”

The mixture of modes used within Instagram story posts therefore allow a higher degree on focus on the storytelling as it makes it easier for the audience to decode the meaning of the story.

These stories are here for you to quickly digest and understand storytellers without having to take time to read mountains of text and try and decode it yourself. It is for these reasons that I decided to use Instagram stories to engage with my audiences.

JCopsonBlogs Instagram Stories — Highlight 1

As a result of my analysis of Instagram stories and my research into the importance of multimodal content, I decided to create a highlights series entitled ‘Destinations’ where I listed the top 5 travel destinations for the year. These infographics offer imagery and quick an easy to read bullet points in order to stay engaged with my audience. I obtained royalty free images from Pexel and included a link to my blog page at the bottom.

Instagram @jcopsonblogs

JCopsonBlogs Instagram Stories — Highlight 2

For my second highlight series, I shared 7 different promotional images for all of my blog posts on medium. With the use of the links tool on the app, I was able to include a live hyperlink in the story so that my 19 followers can be taken straight to my posts from my Instagram account. I also used the share tool on the medium app in order to create a professional template for the posts that includes the website name for my blog account, the length of the posts, the title and also my name alongside my profile picture.

Instagram @jcopsonblogs

What have I gained?

Well, from my research undertaken, it became clear that multimodality is the future for journalistic engagement. From my experience with this art form, I have developed an understanding on the importance of using multimodal techniques. These tools that Instagram offer are valuable for journalists wishing to engage with their audiences which is why I discovered important applications such as links, emojis and polls.

Lastly, I gained the experience of portraying bits of information in multiple ways through text, imagery, bullet points and emojis which helps in adapting my content to fit different audience learning types. Being able to gain experience in multimodality allows multiple senses to be used at one time which allows flexible decoding in a creative environment.

Summary

If you want my advice … do your own research and discover the possibilities of engaging with your community through these flexible modes. Use the applications and tools that you are given on social media to story tell and excite people.

If you want to learn more about the world of journalism and writing, then please follow my other social media handles that are noted below.

Social Media Handles via Canva [James Copson]

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James Copson

James Copson

Weekly posts bringing important elements of Travel Journalism to your fingertips. Facebook - @JCopsonBlogs Twitter - @JCopsonBlogs Instagram - @jcopsonblogs