Immersive and innovative: the future of storytelling online


Interactivity is becoming a critical facet in how we tell stories in the connected age. Digital storytelling has evolved through Web2.0s increasing infiltration and ease of production/consumption to what media researcher Bryan Alexander notes is a “continually expanding arena for storytelling” (21). The relevance of the web as an “arena of storytelling” has led to the media convergence of once legacy media outlets, forcing print, radio and television broadcast services to merge with new forms of media (Uricchio 17). While this means that the future of some old media forms may be in doubt, new and old media methods have merged to create digital stories that are accessible, engaging, immersive and facilitate discourse within the audience.


Once an exclusive television broadcasting service, the SBS has merged with the new media forms that Web2.0 brought to the world to create interactive storytelling experiences. One example the digital merger of media forms is the SBS’s online documentary Cronulla Riots, (SBS) which investigated the 2005 racially motivated riots in Sydney. As the documentary is based around interactivity, it can be labelled as an interactive documentary or i-doc (Aston & Gaudenzi 125-6). Cronulla Riots adopts multiple forms of media in the form of still images, videos, soundscapes, maps and text to immerse the audience into the investigation of the event, essentially becoming part of the process by discovering information within the documentary.



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Watch: Cronulla Riots



Cronulla Riots contains a linear narrative with nine chapters however the documentary interacts with us by offering chances to digress from the primary story to explore key themes, character profiles and facts. Questions are even asked to challenge our assumptions or to show the wider picture of an issue. For example, the documentary asks: “Are people that use the Australian flag doing so for racist purposes?” If we choose an answer, the documentary consults a mind map which reveals relevant information about national icons being appropriated for racist purposes. We can also opt to ignore these secondary sources or to further explore the mind map to discover new facts before returning to the primary narrative allowing us an active role in the documentary. Media researcher Dayna Galloway calls this the active adaption category of interactive documentaries, characterised by user – document information exchange to which the user is aware of (333).


Offering the audience an active role in the documentary is not the only way Web2.0 has changed the way we consume stories. Galloway notes that there are also passive adaptive, immersive and expansive interactive documentaries (336). Passive adaptive stories modify content depending on unconscious interactions between the user and the system (Galloway 332 – 3). Immersive stories aim to place the audience in the stories environment by using multiple media forms (Hernandez 103 – 4). Therefore, the immersive documentary falls heavily upon audio-visuals to convey its story while aiming to limit real-world stimulus by using full-screen visuals, headphones or augmented reality systems (Galloway 333 – 4). The expansive category uses massive peer – peer interactions to create content. An example of an expansive documentary is Kevin Macdonald’s Life in a Day (2011), which stitched together crowdsourced videos on video sharing site YouTube to create a feature-length documentary. These categories represent a shift from storytelling being a passive experience to an active exploration of the storyteller’s vision.


The technologies and techniques brought on by Web2.0 have developed to create a story that can interact with, and immerse the audience in the digital author’s vision (Aston & Gaudenzi 127). Interactivity in non-fiction digital storytelling offers journalists and media outlets massive amounts of flexibility in how a story can be told. The New York Times can now send a reader to investigate the crime scene of the Las Vegas Gunman’s hotel suite, made up by composite images (Buchanan) while Reuters could send them to witness the reality of living in a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh (Weiyi & Scarr). Interactivity in digital storytelling offers the chance to let the audience go beyond words, and delve deeper into the emotions and humanity that underpin the stories that need to be told.





Alexander, Bryan, and Ebooks Corporation. The New Digital Storytelling: Creating Narratives with New Media. Praeger, 2011.

Aston, Judith, and Sandra Gaudenzi. “Interactive Documentary: Setting the Field.” Studies in Documentary Film, vol. 6, no. 2, 2012, pp. 125–139.

Balendra, Jaya, director. Cronulla Riots, 2013, Eye Spy Productions, Cronulla Productions, SBS

Buchanan, Larry, et al. Inside the Las Vegas Gunman’s Mandalay Bay Hotel Suite, The New York Times Online, 4 October 2017, accessed 24 September 2018

Cai, Weiyi and Scarr, Simon. “The Rohingya Crisis Life in the Camps” Reuters, 4 December 2017, accessed 24 September 2018

Flew, Terry. “Democracy, Participation and Convergent Media: Case Studies in Contemporary Online News Journalism in Australia.” Communication, Politics &Amp; Culture, vol. 42, no. 2, 2009, pp. 87–115.

Galloway, Dayna, et al. “From Michael Moore to JFK Reloaded: Towards a Working Model of Interactive Documentary.” Journal of Media Practice, vol. 8, no. 3, 2007, pp. 325–339.

Hernandez, Richard Koci, et al. The Principles of Multimedia Journalism: Packaging Digital News. 2016.

Mcdonald, Kevin, director. Life in a Day, 2011, LG, Scott Free Productions, YouTube

Thomson, Helen. Wikis, Blogs & Web 2.0 technology. 25 May 2008, University of Melbourne, accessed 24 September 2018,

Uricchio, William, et al. Mapping the Intersection of Two Cultures: Interactive Documentary and Digital Journalism. MIT, Boston, 2015.


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