In an era of severe attention deficiency—when people have, quite literally, shorter attention spans than a goldfish—engaging audiences has been an ongoing struggle for publishers.
But nobody expected the venerable Financial Times to create a drama around it. That’s not a figure of speech either. The FT —aiming to see if creative, live approach to storytelling can engage audiences in new ways—has been experimenting with telling its stories through theatre performance.
The publisher is exploring how creative approaches to storytelling can catalyze innovation in the journalistic practice.
The publisher partnered with People’s Palace Projects, an independent arts charity at Queen Mary University of London, and performance space Battersea Arts Centre, to hold an early work-in-progress, scratch performances of its stories on stage, through the Contemporary Narratives Lab, an ongoing research project which explores the future of storytelling.
“We weren’t sure about the subject matters that would work and that wouldn’t, so we just tried to find excited journalists that were willing to try it,” said Robin Kwong, head of digital delivery, Financial Times.
The journalists found that while they may have approached their story in a particular way, seeing it presented in a different way was quite illuminating, and it was gratifying to find out that actually, a range of different stories could work in different ways.
From an investigation into the relationship between Uber and its drivers, to stories within its Work Tribes series, the mix of stories—five 10-15-minute shows—performed by a range of artists at Battersea Arts Centre, attempted to create a space where the audience could be exposed to topics they wouldn’t necessarily engage with by themselves.
“We are hoping that when people enter the performance space and give their time, they can become a bit more curious about what is going on, and start forming their own questions about the issues,” Kwong told Journalism.co.uk.
Journalism then becomes not just a means to give people the answers to the questions they already have, but a means to spark new questions for them to explore.
André Piza, producer and theatre director, People’s Palace Projects, drew a parallel between how journalists and artists work, putting information in a coherent form for an audience in an effort to engage them from multiple perspectives.
“When you have different opportunities to engage with people in a variety of formats, which is what both artists and journalists are doing, it gives the audience a much better rounded, and even poetic, perspective about the stories that they are having contact with – the narratives come through in many different ways,” he said.
The meaning that these stories end up having in people’s lives is so much more interesting, and they end up having a much bigger impact.
As a global organization with an international readership, the Financial Times is now considering how this live storytelling format can have a practical impact on a sustainable basis.
“We are asking how we navigate the lines between having something that is very important to be physically there to experiment, versus trying to reach an audience all over the world,” Kwong said. “There will now be a lot of going back, thinking and consolidating the feedback that we have got, and our own experiences.”
It is exciting to see such innovations in the publishing space, and, the more creative ways respected publishing houses experiment with to engage readers, the potential increases for a breakthrough in holding the attention and mind space of an increasingly dazed audience in an information-rich world.