Starbucks ‘Upstanders’ project presents solutions-oriented stories

Posted By Student Newsroom on Friday April 28, 2017

By Kanak Jha
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University

Rajiv Chandrasekaran started out as a business reporter for The Washington Post. He covered stories around the world, including assignments in Baghdad and Cairo.

Twenty years later, he and Starbucks Chairman and CEO Howard Schultz are forging a different style of storytelling. They aren’t content branding for Starbucks, and their work doesn’t mention the company, Chandrasekaran said. He and his team produce short videos about solutions to problems facing communities.

“People out there are really thirsty for solutions-oriented stories,” Chandrasekaran said.

Chandrasekaran spoke on Friday morning at a session entitled “Content + Coffee: Storytelling Lessons From One of the World’s Top Brands” at the spring conference of the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran talks about “Upstart,” a multimedia project launched by Starbucks. (Kanak Jha/ASU Walter Cronkite School)


He said he and Schultz explored how they could leverage the Starbucks network, brick and mortar stores, the mobile app and social media presence to deliver content that focused on public interest stories.

They launched “Upstanders,” a collection of 10 stories told through multimedia platforms about topics important to community members across the country, last year.

The only real role the Starbucks brand plays in the project is promotion via social media and publishing the pieces online. Chandrasekaran said this form of content can play an important role in corporate responsibility and brand image.

“I wear a unique hat,” he said. “I don’t do branded content. It is all about creating content in the public interest, and I like to think of it as a new form of journalism.”

He showed the fourth episode of “Upstanders,” a story called “The Mosque Across the Street” that showed how a predominantly Christian town in Tennessee opened its arms and accepted the Muslim residents building a mosque.

The piece addresses Islamophobia, and it illustrates the effectiveness of creating ties during a time of division and how to ease hatred in a community through acceptance and leadership.

Combined with video, text and shorter clips for social media, Chandrasekaran said stories like this one and the nine other published last year were well-received and helped him as a journalist and storyteller.

“It took me 21 years after leaving The Washington Post and joining Starbucks to truly understand multimedia journalism,” he said.


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