Posts Tagged ‘NPR’

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.

Need digital technology funding? Knight Foundation study highlights journalism innovation contests

Anyone who listens to NPR more than once in a blue moon probably remembers the catchy plugs for sponsors such as the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has granted millions to public broadcasting (and others) to support journalism “… in the digital age.”

Similarly, journalists and industry followers even mildly interested in digital media trends are likely familiar with the Knight Foundation’s popular Knight News Challenge, a five-year, $25 million initiative that annually seeks innovation submissions from journalism and information technology entrepreneurs.

Click image for Knight Foundation report

Click image for Knight Foundation report

Continuing its quest to research and fund digital-age projects supportive of quality journalism, Knight commissioned a study from Arabella Philanthropic Investment Advisors on 29 “media, information and communication contests.” Of course, the News Challenge is included in the analysis.

Some highlights:                           

-Knight currently gives away the most annually, with $5 million, though Google will soon supersede that with its $10 million Project 10100.

-The amount of submissions per contest ranges from a few dozen to over 12,000.

-Sponsors and funders come from all sectors, including government, non-profit, education, and for-profit. The sector that sponsors the most contests (not surprisingly) is foundations, followed by for-profit technology companies.

But the analysis is not a competition among groups vying for the title “best funder.” Rather, the report highlights (very concisely, in my opinion) the various funding opportunities for those interested in sharing information on constantly changing digital platforms.

Plus, it’s not all journalism. Many of the projects and programs highlighted are for the more technical-minded: application developers and telecommunications gurus.

But there’s a general theme: Sharing information – either through published/broadcast news reports or over social media networks – is a critical component in the Internet age. Whether journalism entrepreneurs or computer science whizzes seek the money is moot. The point is that there’s a lot being done to spur and spread information-sharing technology. And there’s plenty of room for more players, both funders and seekers.

Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine and spends way too much time on Twitter (@scottleadingham) following industry news.


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