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"Alternative Storytelling"

Posted by on Jan 11, 2009 in Blog, theory, web, writing | One Comment

I have a problem.  I’m interested in too much.  After the first week of my second quarter at Medill, I have eight story ideas I’m working on.  To give you some perspective, we are supposed to have 15 done by the end of the quarter. There are 11 weeks in a quarter.  8 times 11 = 88.  88 does not equal 15.  This is a better problem than the opposite I suppose, which would be needing 88 stories and having 15.

And before I get going, make no mistake.  I love Medill. I learn more there in a day than in any day of the rest of my life.  I work harder in a day there than any other time in my life.  And I love it more than I previously loved any day in my life.  I tell my journalism friends that they must go, receive intimate critiques of their work, ask all the questions in the world, meet fellow journalists searching for a place in this so-called “dying industry.”

But no institution is perfect, and any institution that takes risks is going to make mistakes.  Here’s Number 47:

After spending much of the weekend perusing my reporting syllabus, one requirement perplexes me.  We are assigned to do an “alternative storytelling” piece. The example is a “Q&A”, AKA a question and answer piece.

I take issue with this because this  means “Don’t use any writing style, just write down your questions, and their answers.  Now sigh happily, and revel in the joy of finishing an article.”  If you ever find me writing a Q&A, pinch me.  If you ever find me writing a Q&A and calling it an alternative format, claiming that it’s innovative, drag me away from the keyboard, and do something worse than pinching me.  Don’t kill me though, because then I’d be dead, and that sounds a lot less fun than living.  But no Q&As. Ever.

If a journalist wants to show interviews to the reader, great!  Use audio and video to do it!  Let them see whichever parts they want of the interview, and use as many senses as possible.  I advocate this — journalists are the eyes of the public.  Let others see what we see!

However, this stance means I need to think about what I view as alternative storytelling.  To have an alternative, you need something common.  In Web 2.0, if something is common, it’s gone the way of the typewriter.  Originality is the name of the game, and that’s the new common form.  So what’s the alternative to originality?  Reverting to copying others?  Not for this reporter.

Which brings me back to my original problem.  I’m not a reader, so I don’t know what’s interesting to the reader.  But by the end of the quarter, I’m going to think of  a new way to convey a story.  A story about medical research, because that’s my beat.  In the mean time, I’m leaving the alternative storytelling box on my syllabus unchecked.  I’ll start with the slide show requirement, because I get slide shows.  Arty, informative, visually appealling — that’s much more my thing.   Maybe the answer will come to me in a dream.

In the meantime, any ideas on how you wish journalists would tell stories?

Note: This post is actually the worst form of storytelling, a long dry boring post on the web.  Can I make it up by pointing you to a riveting NOVA documentary on a trial dealing with the teaching of intelligent design in schools?  I think they are much closer to alternative storytelling than this entry is.  I expect more of myself by the end of March.

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  • Mike Minkoff

    Excellent questions and as you think it thru you’ll get our own answers. The important thing the reader wants is easy-to-understand communication from the web. Text and slideshows (and video) are great because everyone has the the tools. If everyone had 3D glasses you could do 3D slide-shows and video! Can voice-recognition software be used to get feedback from the reader and thru it into text? The internet didn’t have graphics or audio originally, but it does now! Why? Because it’s more like real-life speaking one-to-one with the reporter.

    Do whatever you can to get to the reader in innovative ways as well as the ways traditional communications can.

    -Mike Minkoff