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StoryMaker - Create compelling, professional news stories using only a mobile phone

When mass violence happens, it is often difficult for professionals to reach and document in time. Citizens following simple task-based assignments can be relied upon to create credible documentation with only a mobile phone and no prior experience.

Photo of Brian Conley
27 31

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The Arab Spring demonstrated the increasing importance of amateur content to document global events. The existing solutions to improve the low quality of amateur content all focus on adding filters or easing postproduction. StoryMaker solves these problems before users have created low quality content. StoryMaker approaches storytelling as a structured, task-based process, simplifying a complex process.


StoryMaker provides users specific templates for audio, video, and photo stories. These templates employ overlays, suggested time limits for each clip, and brief, clear instructions to indicate key aspects of each element of the story. Creating stories with a structured template dramatically reduces editing time, speeding delivery of finished stories. By reducing technical hurdles, StoryMaker allows users to focus on finding a compelling story and strong characters, the foundation of good journalism and storytelling.


StoryMaker presents users experiencing mass violence with clear, task-based instruction in documenting such events. Increasingly, the availability of smartphones, and a variety of methods for publishing online, as well as the portability of storage media, are ensuring images surface from some of the hardest to reach conflicts. What we are not seeing is an increase in the quality of this content, either for purposes of journalism or use on an evidentiary basis.


StoryMaker was developed as a tool to help anyone create great multimedia stories. It is based on one fundamental notion: the technical elements of story are inherently formulaic. These difficulty presented by these technical elements can be reduced by providing a structured approach to storytelling.

This structured approach can be further refined, aimed at the specific circumstances of an event of mass violence. News agencies, human rights monitors, and even the International Criminal Court could develop specific assignments and push those to users. These assignments can be structured to leverage all manner of data from the users mobile device. An assignment may have a very specific location, composition instructions, or even preset lengths for each clip. The resulting assignment can be set to publish via a secure means, and closed so that it can only be submitted directly to the organization providing the assignment.


StoryMaker is supported by: Small World News | Guardian Project | Free Press Unlimited | Open Tech Fund | Information Security Coalition

Please check out our beta preview release here:

We need your feedback to improve the app, so please let us know what you think and what works, and what doesn't.

StoryMaker is currently available in Arabic and English, but you can help us translate it into many more languages by joining our translation team at http://transifex.com/

How does your idea gather AND verify information? How does your idea keep those who use it safe?

StoryMaker enables users to publish content via their existing YouTube account. StoryMaker also curates content to a single location, sorting users stories and placing them with other relevant content. This enables easier cross rferencing and verification, it also ensures more people will see the content, by placing all relevant content in one place, and reducing the time necessary for a consumer to locate what she is looking for.

We are developing integration with Mozilla’s Open Badges, by earning badges, users will be able to demonstrate credibility and reliability. Badges should verify completed lessons as well as the number of stories users have produced and the overall rating of their stories.

StoryMaker enables users to publish to YouTube via Tor, enabling them to upload content in a manner that is anonymous to the network, and keeps the content of their traffic private. StoryMaker enables users to publish stories in areas where YouTube has been blocked or where they may fear retaliation for the content of their stories. StoryMaker’s security features have been developed by the Guardian Project, noted experts in developing android-based security and privacy functionality.

How might your idea be designed to scale and spread to help as many people as possible?

StoryMaker is designed as a tool for anyone creating stories. The primary limitations on its spread are the accessibility of smartphones, particularly in conflict zones and crisis areas. Although we hope smartphones will eventually be more broadly available, we also recognize that citizen journalists and media makers are a self-selecting group, and believe that building tools to maximize the capacity of smartphones will dramatically change the way conflicts are documented and reported on.

How might your idea make use of exisiting technology? Has your idea been tried in a different or related context?

StoryMaker is based on our experience over the last 7 years, training journalists and citizens in conflict areas to leverage existing technology to tell their stories to the world. StoryMaker was developed with all of this experience in mind. Our goal is to enable anyone, anywhere, to learn to be a great multimedia storyteller, whether a trainer is available or not. The methods are built on success. Most recently we trained 50 Libyan journalists over a handful of 5 day workshops, to produce election advocacy PSAs. In all, 15 were completed and broadcast on national television across Libya in the run up to the election.

Rather than creating yet another content sharing platform, StoryMaker is designed to facilitate users of current platforms to create better content BEFORE sharing. This ensures the creation of stories that provide adequate details and contextualized subject matter. Current methods all focus on assisting you to improve your content AFTER it has been shot. But if the proper images and evidence are not documented, you will not be able to create it after the fact. StoryMaker enables users to more effectively use the technology they already have access to, improving the content they produce with their smartphones and facilitating quick publishing and curation of content, to make it easier for others to consume all relevant stories in one location.

How could you begin prototyping this idea in a simple way to begin testing and refining it? Who would use your idea and/or who is using it now? Is your idea technically easy medium or hard to implement?

With the support of Free Press Unlimited and local stakeholders, we will be running initial tests and implementation of StoryMaker in Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, and Zimbabwe in the coming weeks. We also plan to pilot it in Sudan later this summer through a recent grant.

The idea is simple, providing users a clear and simple, task-based assignment for the documentation of evidence will facilitate greater evidence and testimony gathering from witnesses at the source.

Although it is limited to individuals with access to smartphones, we focus on making the app intuitive and easy to use. We expect anyone without prior knowledge will be able to begin making great stories within a few tries. We have already experienced this with a very early alpha release, where a user with no experience in media was quickly producing shots with proper composition and balance.

How is your idea adapted for conditions in hard-to-access areas, such as lack of internet and mobile access? Can users adopt it without much behavior change?

StoryMaker enables users to produce great stories with a mobile phone, regardless of internet or mobile access. In order to publish their stories, they will have to reach a location with access, or transfer the clips via bluetooth or USB to someone else’s device or computer.

Users will not need additional equipment beyond their mobile phone to create professional multimedia stories. Assembling, trimming, and publishing can all happen from a single device.

In the case of an available, yet low-bandwidth connection, we have enabled StoryMaker to publish to YouTube via a resumable upload. This will reduce potential publishing failures due to poor connections.

Evaluation results

21 evaluations so far

1. How scalable would this idea be across regions and cultures?

Looks like it’d be easy to spread across multiple regions and cultures - 71.4%

This idea could scale but it might need further iteration to make it widely relevant - 23.8%

Seems that this idea would best be suited for a single region/population - 4.8%

2. Would a lot of resources be required to create a pilot for this idea? (think time, capacity, money, etc)

This idea looks easy to pilot with minimal resources being invested - 57.1%

Feels like this idea could take a moderate amount of resources to pilot - 38.1%

Seems like piloting this idea would take a lot of resources - 4.8%

3. How suitable is this idea for various challenges on the ground such as lack of internet or mobile access?

Yep, it feels like it could work easily beyond internet or mobile access - 4.8%

Not so sure – it looks like it would require online or mobile connectivity - 19%

This idea definitely seems to rely on internet or mobile access - 76.2%

4. Could this idea put users or others at risk?

Nope, it looks like everyone would be safe - 0%

There are some potential concerns, but these could be addressed with further iteration - 61.9%

I can imagine some people being put at risk with this idea - 38.1%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

This idea rocked my world - 42.9%

I liked it but preferred others - 42.9%

It didn't get me overly excited - 14.3%

27 comments

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Photo of Meena
Team

Fascinating stuff, Brian – especially given, as we saw in our Inspiration phase, that you are a journalist who has worked in contexts of mass violence. During our Ideas phase we hope that our community will collaborate to strengthen and build ideas, together. Do you have any challenges or areas of opportunity for StoryMaker that you'd like to share to help folks understand where they might join the conversation? Perhaps you'd like to add those in at the end of your post description. (To edit your post, hit the Update Entry button on the right)

Photo of Meena
Team

Oh – and just checked out your visualised summary at: http://www.openideo.com/open/usaid-humanity-united/ideas/storymaker-create-compelling-professional-news-stories-using-only-a-mobile-phone/gallery/storymakeronesheet.pdf/ Awesome clarification of what you're planning to date! Are there any issues/ideas you're seeing raised across conversations on our challenge which might help iterate your thinking? Hoping you can make some collaborative builds and join discussions with others to spur their ideas on too.

Photo of Brian
Team

Thanks Meena, the content of the onesheet details what exists, right now!

We have launched a beta preview in the Play Store, and are looking for testers to offer feedback. We will continue working on building the functionality of specific assignments, and additional security protections.

Photo of Meena
Team

Might you include a link in your post to the beta preview in the Play Store so folks who are keen can easily check it out?

Photo of Mira
Team

Hi Brian! I love this concept -- we know how powerful a well-told story can be. I have some experience in social documentation and I'd love to help do some beta testing, or anything that would be helpful. If you could use some help, send me a link and some more info!

Photo of Brian
Team

Thanks Meena and Mira. I've updated the description and added a link to our beta preview, check it out!

Photo of Karoline
Team

Hi guys. Just wanted to pass on some information about the opportunity to apply for small grants through humanity united. They've got a pool designed to facilitate innovation and scale in humanitarian and emergency assistance worldwide. The small grants given would range up to £20,000 (or approx. US$32,000). More info about the fund and application process here http://bit.ly/17T9Nzf It's looks like a great opportunity to bring some of the ideas in here to life. Unfortunately, I'm still in school, and unable to take my idea 'People's Radio' further or apply for grants, but anyone from the community who might want to are super welcome to do so. Brian, if you're in a similar position, you might want to reach out to members of your virtual team or otheres you know to see if they're interested in taking the idea further. Exciting!
Cheers, Karoline

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