By Nathan Fey & Maggie Cunningham
Students in NMS 509: Digital Storytelling, Summer 2015
The stories of American war veterans are diverse as those who have served. Their experiences, perspectives, and reflections are all different, yet their service binds them together. Some look back at their military service with pride, some with trepidation, and some carry wounds, both seen and unseen. Many have a need to connect with others with similar struggles and values – as only those who have lived through similar experiences can understand.
The format in which a story is told in an important part of the creation process. In Stories Worth Telling: A Guide to Strategic and Sustainable Nonprofit Storytelling, The Meyer Foundation highlights which mediums are best for various kinds of information. “Ultimately when pulling together the various assets of your story, let the story itself guide you in determining the best format” (pg. 34).
This post examines the way that veterans are sharing their stories online. With the backdrop of the Meyer Foundation guidelines, we look at effective ways that veterans programs use video, audio, text and image, and multimedia to help veterans connect with each other and share resources.
Creating video digital stories results in high engagement from the audience because it is a great way to capture charisma and personality of the characters involved. Video was the second most used digital format in the analysis done by the Meyer Foundation at 39%, but they also list stand alone video as one of the most costly in terms of resources. Below are two examples of veteran nonprofits that use video successfully.
Make the Connection uses dynamic categorization schemes to connect veterans through shared experiences and backgrounds: from gender, era and branch of service, combat experience, to post-service issues such as homelessness and chemical dependency.
Users can sift through over 600 short, professionally facilitated videos of veterans telling first hand accounts of their distinctive personal struggles and achievements.
Garry, a Vietnam era veteran, shares the story of his struggles after service.
About Face is a video blog that shares stories about veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), their families, and health care professional who work with them. About Face’s mission is to educate and connect veterans with PTSD, providing resources for treatment and community.
In over 70 short, first person account videos clips, veterans, families, and health care professionals each discuss a set of topics that reveals their story of PTSD. The content is highly organized, sortable and shareable on social media.
Audio can be a great way to capture emotion. And while it is one of the best mediums for setting a mood, it is also one of the least engaging digital mediums according to the Meyer Foundation. StoryCorp is an organization that gets audio right and presents it in a way that fosters community and interaction through its share-ability.
StoryCorps provides a platform for veterans, their friends, and loved ones to share their experiences of war – the loss and the pain, both physical and emotional – and the effects that it has had on them.
The StoryCorps veterans playlist includes eight professionally produced first person account audio recordings, each under five minutes. Veterans, friends, and family tell their stories from several perspectives.
“I remember that I called you, and told you that I shot a man. And you didn’t really know what to say, so you said, ‘Well, we’ll deal with it when you get home'”
Text and Image
As mentioned in The Meyer Foundation piece, written stories are by the far the most used format for digital storytelling. In their analysis of nonprofits, 60% of digital stories were written narrative. This is often due to the fact that it requires the least amount of resources to produce and the possibility for user submission is much easier. Below are two examples of organizations that successfully use text and image format.
The Wounded Warrior Project is a nonprofit helping active duty service members and veterans who suffered physical or emotional injury, illness or wounds related to service.
The Meet a Warrior story collection includes text and photo profiles of service members who have suffered injury and used the organization’s programs for assistance. The collection meant to tell the stories of the people behind this program.
Operation Second Chance is a nonprofit that provides services and resources to wounded, injured, and ill veterans and their families. In addition to providing information to wounded veterans, the website seeks fundraising volunteers and donations.
The Our Heroes collection of digital stories Operation Second Chance promotes public awareness of the sacrifices made by veterans. Each story profiles a veteran, the injuries he or she faced in combat, and often times how he or she became involved with Operation Second Chance.
“The greatest individuals I know are not Politicians, movie stars or even the wealthiest people in the world. The greatest individuals I know are the men and women that put their lives on the line each and every day and serve our country.” Cindy McGrew – Read their stories here.
With the use of multimedia, nonprofits have the advantage of allowing a story to tell itself in whatever format works best. According to the Meyer Foundation, and maybe surprisingly, multimedia project require less resources than stand alone video, but also has high engagement. Below are two examples veteran nonprofits using a mix of digital story mediums.
Veterans Voices of Pittsburgh is a nonprofit educational media organization, and its purpose is to preserve the stories of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania veterans by facilitating their telling in different mediums.
The Oral History Initiative is a large collection of digital stories that includes audio, video, photo and literary pieces using first person accounts, profiles, short documentaries. Through the use of many digital platforms the organization seeks to make its stories accessible to diverse audiences. The site also offers opportunities to donate and volunteer.
“We didn’t have much to eat. the Germans just gave us potato peelings soup…. I come out of there 106 pounds.”
The Witness to War is a nonprofit foundation dedicated to preserving veterans’ stories of combat.
The storie collection contains more than 3,000 videos, 30 photo albums, and 130 written memoirs – all first person accounts of veterans sharing their combat experience. The stories are sortable by branch of service, era served, types of media and narrative.
American Troops moving to the front in the European Theater during WWII. Click here all stories.
As we saw in these seven digital story examples, each format, whether it’s text and image or multimedia, has it’s positives and negatives. We agree with The Meyers Foundation notion that not every kind of story should be told the same way. While a story involving a combat scene might lend itself to audio, a story about a veteran and his service dog might work best in video. In today’s digital world, access to free and inexpensive software is becoming more and more common. Our advice to veteran nonprofits looking to create digital stories is: First find the content and build the story. Then choose the format. Don’t limit yourself by choosing a single medium to tell every story. Think multimedia.
Meyer Foundation. (2014). Stories worth telling: A guide to strategic and sustainable nonprofit storytelling. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://meyerfoundation.org/impact/stories-worth-telling