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Teaching Online Journalism

Telling stories online: Do you?

Andy Dickinson wrote a very good post about this (There are no stories on the web) last week, and with all the U.S. election business, I didn’t get a chance to highlight it till now.

Right now I’ve got my journalism students in the middle of some work that really is not a story. I keep referring to their story as their “topic,” because that seems more appropriate. They are writing about a topic. They are collecting data related to a topic. They are interviewing experts about a topic. But they are not telling a story.

Maybe when they are finished with all the pieces of this assignment, they would be ready (really ready) to tell a good story related to their topic. That would require them to find real live people who have lived out some aspect of the topic. For example, bullying is one of the topics. One way to “tell a story” about bullying is to go to some schools and interview some officials, e.g., teachers, the principal, the school nurse.

I would argue that the result of that superficial effort is also NOT a story. It’s nothing but some facts strung together with quotes, and it’s not real reporting any more than paraphrasing Wikipedia is reporting.

Ultimately, stories come from people. They come from the collective experiences, social contexts and relevance of communities. To find a story and know why it’s a a story, you have to be part of or active in those communities. That’s something that ‘traditional’ journalism is supposed to be good at. Understanding the communities/audience they serve. Being relevant through the intimate knowledge of a patch. Having the ‘in’ at the ground floor of a story.

Andy is talking about finding the story online (and whether you can); I’m talking about the basic idea of a story.

Is it really a story if all you have in it is information? Even if you interview a child about being bullied — or being a bully — do you really have a story if you haven’t watched the bullying take place?


Categories: ideas, reporting, storytelling


4 Comments

  1. As a former assignment manager and broadcast producer turned online community manager, I see at least three great stories in the comments area and blogs on my site everyday. That is because I am a trained journalist who can spot a story a mile away. Yes, stories do come from people, and online communities are filled with them. I am part of the community simply because I manage it. I couldn’t imagine having a tool such as this were I still assigning stories. Perhaps a task for your students could be to engage in an online community and find a story. I’ve sent two stories to reporters, that I found right in the community: A group of local students traveling around the country last summer to register people to vote, and teachers upset with a new “no zeros” policy handed down by school administrators which no longer allows them to give students zeros even when they don’t do the work. So, the stories can be found online. I only wish i was in a position to produce all that I see on a weekly basis.

  2. Brendan says:

    How relevant are stories to contemporary, digital journalism? I think journalism should be evaluated on the quality and relevance of the information it presents, not on the story.

  3. [...] began to think about this after reading Mindy McAdams’ post highlighting something Andy Dickinson posted last week. It’s about the essence of stories and [...]

  4. [...] McAdams posted a call for good storytelling earlier this week on her blog. I asked, “How relevant are stories to contemporary journalism.” I believe that focusing on stories, particularly individual’s stories, rather than stories of [...]

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