Digital storytelling lessons from the campaign to free the Arctic 30

People holding up placards showing faces and names of Arctic 30 detaineesThe Arctic 30 were imprisoned in Russia on charges of ‘hooliganism’ for their peaceful actions in protest at plans to drill in the pristine Arctic region.

Here are some of the lessons campaigners from around the world drew from their own experience of what worked to help tell a compelling story online, engaging the public around the activists’ situation, and raising the issue of Arctic oil exploration.

Use tension

Attention-grabbing stories have tension: what will happen next? In the case of the Arctic 30 the uncertainty was all too real. Would they be released? Would they be out in time for Christmas?

Think about how to create and highlight tension: Will they make it? Will they get arrested? Will they get out of jail? Will they win the case?

Humanise the story

Real life stories have real people with names, faces and emotions. It wasn’t Greenpeace that was in jail, it was 30 people, 30 activists and crew members. Telling the stories of the detainees’ families, focusing on their health concerns, their anxieties, brought the story back to the level of real people taking action for their beliefs.

One of the Arctic 30, Activist Sini Saarela sends a message from her bail hearing. Dmitri Sharomov/Greenpeace/AFP/Getty Images

This was especially important in countries, including Russia, where the general attitude to protest would be more hostile. Personal stories made it easier for the audience to imagine themselves there with empathy.

Help your audience engage and connect by telling personal stories.

Make global and local connections

International stories work well online. The internet is a global medium and in the case of the Arctic 30 the global relevance of the headline was clear; these were international citizens taking peaceful action on a global issue.

But shared nationality helps connect people with a story, right down to the level of local media too.

Where there was a national citizen involved it was much easier to generate interest in the media and with the general public. It was much tougher, for example, to talk about the Arctic 30 in China and Japan as none of the individuals came from there.

The internet is, of course, multilingual. Having spokespeople that can tell stories in different languages was also vital; people make strong connections with common language groups.

Think about the local, national and different language connections you can make to your story.

Make the most of multimedia

Pictures and video tell stories better than text. They help create a common understanding of events and locations.

The images from cells where the Arctic 30 were imprisoned were powerful, showing the conditions they were were experiencing, and generating empathy.

Similarly, the footage of the Russian helicopter dropping masked, armed security services personnel onto the deck of the Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise, showed the level of aggression in a way that no written story possibly could.


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    • You can buy it easily through this safe link (use high broadband if you have it) and follow the easy route to "Books" and click on that... You'll see a list of titles then and click on The Cat in the Hat to buy …anch of the public library and ask for the children's reference librarian. Ask him or her if they have this ready for download against your library card. Many libraries do this now. Mine doesn't, so I'm not sure of cost.

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      When we did this for Dr. Seuss Day we set up several different stations for students to rotate through. This was a few years ago, … character. Draw it. Name it. Write a short story/poem about it.

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