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September 11, 2005

CNN: "Storytelling"

Jonathan Klein, he of the "pajamas" remark (one year and one day ago), says that CNN's future lies not with news reporting but "storytelling," some sort of hybrid of news and strong dramatic narrative. You know-- kind of made-up fictitious shit with a pleasing emotional resonance.

Well, here's some storytelling in action:

The TV news networks, which only a few months ago were piously suppressing emotional fireworks by their pundits, are now piously encouraging their news anchors to break out of the emotional straitjackets and express outrage. A Los Angeles Times colleague of mine, appearing on CNN last week to talk about Katrina, was told by a producer to "get angry."

That's from liberal hostaet man Michael Kinsley, writing in the LA Times, so I kinda doubt he's lying to serve his master Karl Rove (Our Satanic Father, Who Art Commuting Between Hell and the White House).

Now, of course, the point of "storytelling" is to exclude the extraneous. Stories need a point, and they need a tight and clean plot -- "narrative arc," as they say -- to be potent. They cannot ramble, contradict themselves, or be full of nonessential side-thoughts that distract too much from the central narrative arc. Heroes may be flawed and villains may have some redeeming qualities, but it's always hazardous to not be clear who is who when trying one's hand at "storytelling."

Michelle Malkin catches CNN's "storytellers" practicing their craft:

Companies with ties to the Bush White House and the former head of FEMA are clinching some of the administration's first disaster relief and reconstruction contracts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

At least two major corporate clients of lobbyist Joe Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, have already been tapped to start recovery work along the battered Gulf Coast.

One is Shaw Group Inc. and the other is Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root. Vice President Dick Cheney is a former head of Halliburton.

That's a very good Act One. Lots of good conflict between the heroes (Democrats, the media, Roy "the CIA wants to kill me" Nagin, etc.) and the Black-Hatted profiteers of death.

But writing is rewriting and cutting out parts that don't fit the story. Like this, which Michelle tells you, but CNN, Reuters, and the usual gang of idiots don't:

The Shaw Group, a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, is headed by Jim Bernhard, the current chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party. Bernhard worked tirelessly for Democrat Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco's runoff campaign and served as co-chair of her transition team. Another Shaw executive was Blanco's campaign manager. Bernhard is back-scratching chums with Blanco, whom he has lent/offered the Shaw Group's corporate jets to on numerous occasions.

Yes, I see the power of storytelling now.

It's just another name for the faith-based journalism the media has been pushing on us for 50 years. But turned up to 11.

More on Storytelling: First of all, Kausfiles has been on this "storytelling" model since day one. Check his archives; he mentions it two or three times a month.

Here's a description of "storytelling" from that piece first linked at the top of this post:

Attention spans will continue to shorten. But that kind of rapid-fire information is becoming a commodity on the web. It's easy to produce. Raw text stories and video clips are everywhere. But telling a story well requires time and talent. There's more value in good storytelling.

In fact, I would argue the bar is higher for on-demand storytelling. When people click on a story -- when they expend the energy to actually "demand" it -- they expect the story to deliver. "Anticipointment" is a real enemy. On live TV, producers can "punch up" weaker stories with urgent writing and dynamic live shots. That same energy is difficult to translate into a pure on-demand environment.

The story must deliver even if the facts don't quite do that, it seems. You can't subject an audience to "anticipointment" (anticipation followed by disappointment, I guess).

And if you have to tell your on-air interviewees to "get angry," or omit very germane facts to make a neat, clear, dramatic narrative -- well, that's what storytelling requires.

But remember: You can trust the mainstream media. They've got degrees in journalism, after all, which insures they... well, I guess that they'll tell you stories.

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posted by Ace at 09:21 PM

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