In search of storytellers (or what’s the point of storytelling, anyway?)
Posted by Scott Leadingham
What’s the point of storytelling? Specifically, in journalism, what are we trying to accomplish by “telling stories”?
At SPJ we often get e-mails and calls from aspiring journalists – students or otherwise – who want advice on becoming a full professional. There’s usually a theme in these conversations, something like: “I want to be a journalist because I love telling stories.”
Same thing goes when talking to journalists at conferences or in meetings or profiling them for Quill magazine. It’s a variation on a theme: “I got into journalism to tell stories about people and their communities, to have an impact on people’s lives.”
An NPR piece this week made me think about this with renewed fervor. Media correspondent David Folkenflik visited USC’s Annenberg School and asked: “What’s the point of journalism school, anyway?”
Upon hearing the report, I asked myself: “What’s the point of storytelling, anyway?” Why do many journalists hold it in such high regard? (Or, more cynically, why do so many journalists and outlets claim to value it when in reality so much journalism is stenography and infotainment?)
In thinking of Folkenflik’s piece, are the skills purported to be taught in journalism school – ethical responsibility, sound news judgment, mechanics for writing and production – the same as the art of storytelling? Does one really need to go to journalism school to learn storytelling the same way one learns, say, how to access public records?
All rhetorical questions, for sure.
For Quill, this blog, the SPJ website, heck, my own personal amusement, I’m looking to collect your thoughts on what it means to be a storyteller in journalism. Who does it well? What journalists, outlets or initiatives encapsulate what it means to be a “storyteller”?
Of course, there are many from which to choose. A short list in my mind includes “This American Life”/Ira Glass; “The Story”/Dick Gordon; Tom Hallman of The Oregonian; Amy Ellis Nutt of The Star-Ledger; Melissa Lyttle of The St. Petersburg Times; Boyd Huppert/Jonathan Malat of KARE-TV; and Rosette Royale of Real Change. Who do you suggest?
Leave a comment or drop me an e-mail. Heck, tell me a story while you’re at it.
Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine. Twitter: @scottleadingham.