If you have attended one our weekly production meetings you will have noticed that when we agree to run a story and we have defined broadly how it should be treated, one of the first things we do is nominate a story owner. What does this mean?
Story owners have two key functions:
- Liaising with the story’s stakeholders
- Liaising with the story’s content producers
In some senses it’s a role that coordinates the production process of the story, looking both outwards (towards stakeholders who have an interest in the story or the audiences to which it will be told) and inwards (to the writers, illustrators, video producers and so on).
If you are nominated as a story owner, you will generally meet with those who will produce the story and agree exactly what the story is and how it should be told. You’ll agree things such as:
- key message;
- who needs to be involved in the story’s telling and in later stages such as approvals;
- narrative approach.
Once this has been clearly agreed between story owner and content producers, the responsibility for producing to this specification is handed over to the content producers. To make this process transparent, for more complex content such as features or videos, I would recommend that a briefing form is completed (Adam is working on such a form and will no doubt share it at a later point via this blog). For simpler stories, of course, a short chat will do.
Beyond production, the story owner will act as liaison with stakeholders in the story. Let’s imagine that a feature on EMBL’s core facilities is being written, for instance. In this case it would make sense for the story owner to get in touch with the managers of the core facilities in question, or directly with EMBL’s head of core facilities. Exactly who to involve, as well as how and when, is the story owner’s responsibility.
If you are a story owner and you’re unsure how to do this, just ask!
One of the more creative aspects of the role of story owner is agreeing the narrative shape the story should take with the content producers. Should this be a straight interview, for instance? A personal, reflective piece? Or a neutral explainer? This will have to be negotiated with the content producers and a balance will need to be struck between the cost and effort of producing a story and the impact that is foreseen. As a rule of thumb (but not always), we can spare fewer resources on stories with a lower anticipated reach or impact. (Reach and impact are not the same thing, but that would be the subject of another post!)
Coordination, not control
As the story is being produced, it’s sometimes tempting to story owners to jump in and change things around. A little bit of this is fine, but remember that the responsibility for production lies with the content producers. If things aren’t going along to expectations, there’s no doubt something that was missed in the commissioning discussions. As a content owner, you need to go back and check against the commissioning, not the form of the story as it is taking shape. If you feel like things are getting off track, have a huddle with content producers, stakeholders (sometimes both) as you feel is appropriate.