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What media's best (and worst) can teach you about storytelling

What media's best (and worst) can teach you about storytelling Kevin Dugan

Back in March, while everyone was focused on the Facebook/Oculus rift news with rapt attention, I was more intrigued by Disney's $500 million purchase of the popular YouTube network, Maker Studios. Prior to this acquisition, Disney's empire included movie studios, cable networks, and a national TV network. This recent purchase shows us how different the production of online video content can be and how much media is changing as a result.


This got me thinking about other media sources that inspire by creating content extremely well -- or extremely differently -- compared to their competitors. Here's a list of media outlets that stand out among the rest.

Mental Floss

This magazine reminds me of how compelling and important storytelling can be, while nurturing both sides of my brain. Mental Floss reminds us of how critical and interesting back story is in content marketing. And its writers are as smart and funny as NPR's.


You saw this one coming, right? Seriously though, NPR's diverse content -- and its support of StoryCorps -- is enough for me to include it on this list. But NPR's exploration of non-traditional media (by radio standards) is keeping it more than relevant and helping to drive the media to change. Consider its embrace of Instagram as a way to add a dimension to audio coverage and its race to Apple radio. When NPR is at SXSWi, you realize its team is not just there to learn -- it's there to teach.

ESPN The Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek

ESPN The Magazine has allowed ESPN to go long form and in a beautifully visual way. The way its print magazine serves up data alone reminds us that Sports Illustrated really needed the competition. If ESPN raised the bar for sports reporting, Bloomberg Businesweek took that same bar, broke it in half, and forged its own path. Its print version is changing the design of business magazines, similar to how Fast Company changed the editorial when it first came out of nowhere.

BuzzFeed, Upworthy, and Viral Nova

Journalists and consumers alike run hot and cold for BuzzFeed's popular listicle format. But it's BuzzFeed's YouTube channel with CNN that's pushing the outlet into a new realm. And say what you will about Upworthy. It's pushing BuzzFeed's model -- albeit in sometimes unfortunate directions -- allowing form to drive story. Viral Nova is only on this list as an example of what not to do. BuzzFeed is the gold standard here. It's almost the Netflix of social news, as it continues to evolve into new formats with CNN and hard news coverage. Its evolution is similar to "The Daily Show," as it keeps gaining more and more credibility.

6 tips to turn inspiration into application

The above reminders can make us better storytellers. So keep these tips in mind.

  • In a world of snackable content, don't forget the need for multi-course meals.

  • Be restless and always test, learn, and iterate any of your success with content.

  • Collaboration is critical to pushing ourselves forward. Take those meeting requests from potential partners.

  • Visual is a critical way to improve your content. This is basic, obvious advice that is worth repeating.

  • No matter how shiny the science of story gets, do not let format determine the story being told.

  • With all of the above in mind, never ignore the science of story. It's as critical as the art. 

Which media sources, for better or for worse, inspire you?

Kevin Dugan is director of content at Magnetic Content Studios.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

As director of content at Magnetic Content Studios, a division of Empower MediaMarketing, I'm immersed in helping brands create media to connect with consumers. I've been in marketing communications for 19 years, mostly agency-side, advising clients...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Justin Belmont

2014, May 05

You give some great examples of what people should strive for in their content marketing, and I love that you finish with those great tips. Storytelling is a great way to think about content marketing; it's something that Prose Media keeps in mind. Check out our post about it: http://blog.prosemedia.com/the-art-of-writing-content/