How to innovate in journalism when you don’t have a team

We love journalistic collaborations across news organizations. It’s the reason why we exist, but sometimes you don’t have a big team of newsroom developers and designers to work on your next innovative project. Sometimes it’s just you. And that’s fine. That’s why we put together a digital storytelling checklist for starters.

Set a goal

First of all, make sure you know why you want to innovate in journalism. What do you want to achieve with your project? For example: do you want to inform, explore (give overview, different perspectives, broaden the horizon), to feel empathy (understanding, confronting, entertaining), to care about (inequality, progress/decline). Do you want to involve your audience in your story or is experimenting your main goal? Is it possible to achieve that with your project? Focus on one thing and go for it.

Start small

If you’re new to this: your first digital story doesn’t have to be an overwhelming experience. Start by adding a little extra to your story by using tools to create timelines, maps or infographics. Plenty of tools out there to help you if you don’t have design and coding skills. We created a comprehensive website with the best tools and resources for journalists in 18 categories.


You’re busy. We know. So, ask yourself this question: how much time do you have to build your first project. Is it: 30 minutes, 3 hours, 3 days or 3 months? Seriously be realistic about it. It can save you a lot of headaches.

Think about your audience

Do you think about your audience a lot? Be honest…. We have to admit, they weren’t on top of our minds when we worked as journalists. While building the future of journalism with Hackastory we realized they should be our top priority. First, describe your target audience. Who are they? Go crazy: get out of the building and talk to them. It will give you important knowledge on the format for your project. Your story will look very different whether your audience will consume it during their commute on the train or while relaxing on their couch. Don’t be afraid to show them an early version and let them test your prototypes.

Don’t be afraid to fail

Don’t be scared of taking the plunge. Not everything will be a success. For example, once I spent a whole day on making a multimedia story with a tool, only to find out at the end of the day that I couldn’t embed it. Did I curse: Yes, I did. Was it a waste of time? No, I learned to check what I want from a tool before I use it. If you make mistakes you will walk away stronger and start again. There are no well-defined guidelines on how to innovate in journalism. But not trying is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

Get inspired

Keep yourself up to date with the latest developments in the field. Follow media outlets and journalists who are experimenting with new formats. This is where we get our inspiration. Also, we – with the help of Daan Louter, former newsroom developer of The Guardian, and Jerry Vermanen, data journalists at the Dutch national news organization KRO-NCRV – created a list with our 40 interactive stories of 2017.

Find like-minded journalists

Despite the fact that we are convinced that journalists can innovate on their own, it’s a lot easier if you involve other journalists. Look around you and try to convince others of the importance of innovation. It’s a lot easier when you can share and exchange experiences. We like Digital Journalism Rocks on Slack, Hack/Hackers and our Hackastory community on Facebook.

Or… be a unicorn

It’s a rare find, but some journalists have storytelling, design and coding skills. If you are one of those unicorns and are reading this: congratulations! We love you and are jealous.

You might also like

Yes to doing, no to doubting!

40 best digital stories of 2017