Build multimodal storytelling into your daily routine

By Amalie Nash


Denver, Colorado, United States


What is multimodal storytelling and how can news organisations get better at it?

That was the topic of a Webinar recently hosted by Product & Tech Initiative Lead Jodie Hopperton and me. We teamed up because multimodal storytelling or alternative format storytelling — which can include text, images, audio, graphics, videos, and more — must include both newsroom and product involvement to be successful. 

Newsrooms may see an opportunity to do something multimodal but not have the tools. Product may get excited about multimodal, but find that newsrooms dont use the tools. Being aligned is essential.

Read on for advice, case studies, and more. And I’d love to hear how multimodal storytelling fits into your newsroom’s priorities:


How do you decide what formats to create and use? 

A lot of media companies are good at considering multimodal storytelling when planning their biggest projects. A multi-day series, for instance, will include short videos, audio versions, interactive graphics, and other elements.

But on a daily basis, many companies default to traditional text stories. 

At Newsday in New York, alt-format storytelling is part of the culture and workflow and became that way because of deliberate efforts and training. Rochell Sleets, managing editor, said Newsday pays close attention to results and specifically the amount of time readers spend with the content and conversion rates.

“I think one of the biggest things that captures people is through visuals, and a big way to keep people is through interactive elements,” Sleets said. 

Jodie and I offered up some advice for how to think about multimodal from the newsroom and product perspectives.

From a newsroom perspective …

  • Multimodal needs to be part of your newsroom culture.

  • All journalists should be trained and equipped with the needed tools.

  • Questions journalists and their editors should be asking from the start:

    • Who is my audience for this story?

    • How does that audience prefer to consume content?

    • What user need does this story meet?

    • Does this story lend itself to a particular multimodal storytelling technique?

    • Are there multiple options and entry points for telling this story?

From a product & tech perspective ...

We need to provide the framework for building and delivering these stories:

  • Evaluate cost vs. impact.

  • User needs of current/target audiences.

  • Distribution channels.

  • How to measure success.

  • Ability to support.

This chart illustrates how to think about the concept daily:

A daily checklist of multimodal planning.
A daily checklist of multimodal planning.

Buy-in from those involved is also important. I asked Sleets whether her newsroom embraced or resisted multimodal storytelling.

“Because we share data every day, once you have something that is working and is successful, people want to be part of that,” she said. “The key is to get in early in the process to plan it out to make sure we’re doing our best visual storytelling across platforms.”

Here are some other takeaways:

  • Think audience first.

  • Plan short-term experiments vs. long-term workflows.

  • Build it into your day-to-day planning and processes.

  • Agree on goals and metrics.

  • Involve more people (not just small teams).

  • Get creative!

Have you incorporated multimodal storytelling into your daily planning? E-mail me  

Case studies: Hearst and IL Palat see results with multimodal

Hearst Newspapers in the United States and Alma Media in Finland, both INMA Global Media Awards finalists, have seen strong results by focusing on multimodal storytelling.

Alma Media introduced a new product for Iltalehti’s existing publishing channels: The goal was to boost video consumption within Iltalehti, particularly among young users, and establish a new environment for advertisers.

The product is designed to support narratives based on vertical videos, photos, graphics, and stories comprised of multiple cards, which users navigate by swiping on the screen. 

About 70 different stories are published weekly on the IL Palat product — from visually narrated personal interviews to photo compilations of news events to Iltalehti’s own studio productions and more.

Iltalehti's goal was to boost video consumption and attract young readers.
Iltalehti's goal was to boost video consumption and attract young readers.

Among the results: The service recorded an average of 2.5 million video views and over 5 million pageviews per week, and brand studies show Iltalehti’s top-of-mind awareness has improved among young Finns.

Perttu Kauppinen, editor-in-chief, said Alma Media had previously invested in video production for social media, but videos on TikTok and Instagram didn’t lead users back to Alma Media’s sites or produce revenue.

So they got to thinking: Why not produce social videos for our own platforms?

“It only took two to three months to build the application, and the team producing the content is only four people, but at first, no one was watching them,” he said. “It took time for people to find it, but now it’s really successful.”

Hearst created a Click-2-Publish programme with 20-plus templates: The purpose of the programme is simple: Make it easier for newsrooms to publish innovative journalism.

The Dev Hub at Hearst created more than 20 templates journalists can easily use, including lists, interactive maps, tools for voting, visual scrollers, and more.

Tim O’Rourke, vice president of content strategy at Hearst, said the goal was to reduce the hassle and time it can often take to pull off innovative work. These templates are now used hundreds of times a quarter and thousands of times a year across Hearst’s titles.

Development time is still reserved for the big swings, O’Rourke said, while the templates allow newsrooms to take smaller swings more frequently. 

“Readership gets bored if all you provide is 40-inch stories with photos,” O’Rourke said. “The audience tells you every day that they need more, and we need to take more bets.”

Hearst's Click-2-Publish programme removes barriers for innovative journalism to be published.
Hearst's Click-2-Publish programme removes barriers for innovative journalism to be published.

Storytelling created in the templates received:

  • 304% more visits than the average staff story.

  • 477% more subscriber visits than the average staff story.

  • 1,081% more subscription influences, measured by visits in the seven days before a user subscribes, than the average staff story.

Do you have a case study to share? E-mail me:

Mark your calendars 

Upcoming INMA events that shouldn’t be missed:

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Amalie Nash, based in Denver, Colorado, United States, and lead for the INMA Newsroom Transformation Initiative. Amalie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of bringing newsrooms into the business of news.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Transformation Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Amalie at or connect with her on INMA’s Slack channel with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Amalie Nash

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