Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Mark Winokur

Second Advisor

Len Ackland

Third Advisor

John K. Bennett

Fourth Advisor

Jill Dupré

Fifth Advisor

Marie-Laure Ryan

Abstract

This dissertation describes the techniques of transmedia storytelling and examines them in the context of journalism. Its principle case study explores the National Geographic Society’s (NGS) Future of Food project as an example of transmedia journalism. Having many proprietary media channels, the NGS is uniquely positioned to produce expansive stories on complex issues. The case study is contextualized through the history of the organization and staff interviews about structural and philosophical changes there. The project is qualitatively analyzed for its use of media form, media channel and story expansion. The structure of the network of stories is quantitatively analyzed through social network analysis. This study contributes the first detailed network analysis of a transmedia storyworld, an examination of an early instance of transmedia journalism and initial best practices for the scalable production of it. These methods are framed through a novel use of Multimodality to explain the agency of media as nonhuman actors in Actor-Network Theory.

Analysis shows that though the Future of Food project was designed independently of existing concepts of transmedia storytelling, it mirrors those concepts well. The project builds a complex storyworld, expands content across media and seeks to engage diverse audiences. However, the scale of the storyworld arguably complicates engagement by defying mastery by committed readers. Network analysis also shows that the project maintains much of the broadcast orientation of legacy journalism despite the more complex engagement found with its interactive channels.

This dissertation also contributes a practical taxonomy of media intended to inform the practice of complex storytelling in any industry. A careful distinction between the functions of content, media form and media channel informs effective identification, critique and design of stories for the scalable practice of transmedia storytelling.

This study was motivated by interest in journalism’s adaptation to the changing media environment. Nearly all news media now has global reach, providing the public with an excess of choice for engaging with news. This lack of scarcity has resulted in the great difficulty of sustaining relevance and economic viability for legacy journalism organizations. Transmedia storytelling may provide some intriguing answers to these complicated problems.

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