Digitally speaking, how can journalists tell stories to take full advantage of technological resources? Apart from the lack of journalists with a digital mindset, we normally don’t have resources, well-designed workflows, tools, and, above all, developers with the ability to go hand-in-hand with journalists.

In 2015, Zero Hora, a local newspaper based in the south of Brazil, launched Especiais ZH, renamed last year to Especiais GaúchaZH. Its aim was to gather strong content, technology, and great design.

Especiais GaúchaZH is a digital storytelling project that incorporates skills of numerous team members.
Especiais GaúchaZH is a digital storytelling project that incorporates skills of numerous team members.

Here are important lessons we have learned so far with this endeavor:

1. Engage your newsroom: This was our biggest challenge, as professionals in a printed newspaper are not normally prepared for digital languages. Journalists, including myself, usually have a linear way to tell a story. To address this, we have created a squad with developers, editors, and Web designers capable of translating needs to reporters and explaining the endless possibilities.

The result has been amazing. In just a short amount of time, more seasoned journalists embedded the language and programming tools in their vocabulary, understood the timing of quality digital production, and started a healthy competition for a spot on our agenda. Everyone wanted their material to receive VIP treatment.

2. Have an eternal beta spirit: In the digital world, the life span of the tools and platforms is so short it’s not worth falling in love with them. You need to keep an affair, never a wedding. This means being open to changes you encounter and also respect that, often, the final result may not be what is expected. The ability to learn, even make mistakes, is fundamental to building a digital storytelling process. Give your newsroom the freedom to try.

3) Do, test, repeat: The first published projects had so many usability and experience issues that we almost gave up on the project. Almost. But with a good amount of perseverance, we put together an ideal and mandatory checklist for all projects published. It is long, detailed, and exaggerated. But it ensures users have the best experience, either on a desktop or through mobile when consuming content.

The checklist goes from the care put into the automatic message for social sharing and the buttons that stimulate recirculation to the measurement of the project’s weight and speed. Everything is meticulously designed so users have the best experience.

Who takes the test? Never those who take part in the project. The outside look is fundamental for the test to be effective.

4. Be crazy about data: Monitoring our special projects’ audiences is fundamental for their maintenance. From an expensive dream of developing high-quality material, these projects become a flagship for stimulating digital subscriptions, favouring our business model.

Today, only subscribers have access to our special projects on a hard (but profitable) wall.

Now, three years after the launch, we have published more than 250 stories in this special format, which have generated more than three million pageviews and dozens of awards both nationally and internationally. Recognition is a fuel for journalists, who are always thirsty to tell stories in a better way. The audience volume is a proof users value, pay for, and want an increasing amount of high-quality digital storytelling.