Tag Archives: storytelling

The Storyteller’s Dilemna

Chinese Prison

I was listening to my son tell a story last night.

It’s the one where he gets arrested in Northwest China, along with a bunch of other young people and his grandparents, my mom and dad.

He loves to start with the line, “Oh, yeah, I got arrested in China.”

“What?” His younger brother asked, skeptically. “Why didn’t I hear this before?”

“Maybe because you run off to spend the weekends with your friends every chance you get,” his mother said, disapprovingly from her end of the dinner table.

That little interruption aside, Cole launched into the story, perhaps the sixth or seventh time I’ve heard it, but more likely approaching the 50th time he’s told it since he traveled to the remote region of China with his missionary grandparents last summer.

Continue reading The Storyteller’s Dilemna

The Narrative

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 12.17.16 PMWe’re all suckers for great storytelling.

It’s what we’ve been doing for the better part of 10,000 years.

We’re either telling or listening. We’re attuned to the narrative of our existence as interpreted by others and broadcast back to us in one form or another.

It’s how we understand one another. It’s also how we fail to understand one another. The subtleties of our lives lost in translation, as it were.

We look for the narrative in everything. Seeking it like truth or a map legend or a rubric.

Continue reading The Narrative

The Seeds of Superstition

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The holidays, all of them, are filled with superstition.

There are old stories, older than time, but we do not hear them anymore.

And at the beginning of those stories, before time itself, are things we don’t understand, that we can’t comprehend.

It is said that history turns to legend like living rock turns to stone, and legend turns to myth, like water turning stones to sand.

But somewhere back in the mist, even before the mist, there was a kernel, and that kernel was hard and good and true. And it was passed along as something valuable for a long, long time.

And over the years, it changed to reflect the lives of its givers, adapting here and there to cultural nuances brought about by cataclysmic events and great distances.

Somewhere along its journey, our journey, the seed was lost. Perhaps in translation or just reduced in importance until there is nothing left but a husk, and the husk was passed along like a vessel. Sometimes given and sometimes alone on the winds of time.

But the husk survived the long journey, and we interpreted it as relating to something important, so we memorialized the husk into something we wanted or needed.

And we passed it along, until the husk – all dried up and crumbling – finally passed beyond memory into the faint nether regions of our mind where monsters and angels and demons play like movie characters on our screens of unconsciousness. Our dreamscapes.

But we are not so old that the stories of the husks have completely faded from memory. Rather, we, being an ingenious race of people, have carved a place for the memory of the husks into the structure of our lives.

We call them holidays, and we act out these stories without ever knowing they were stories, without ever knowing there was a husk that once housed a seed of truth.

We are not blessed with an ancient memory, but we are blessed with an ancient ability to memorialize what we do not understand and to celebrate it wholeheartedly. Not for the sake of merely celebrating, I suspect, but for the sake of the importance of the story that came from the husk that came through time itself that once bore a seed of truth.



Season 2 of “The Truth as I See it” podcast

I finished season 1 of “The Truth as I See it” podcast a few weeks ago with an epic road trip home. The stories were all lighthearted life lessons. Good, as stories go, but not quite where I’m at today. I had fun telling these stories, but they seem so distant at times. Here’s a look back at Season 1 –

For season 2, I’m going with stories that are far more part of me today. They contain truths that I learned along the way. They are the scars by which I remember my decisions. They are darker than the first season. Here’s a peek at the podcast’s 2nd season –

1. The Royal – Story about how I blew my finger off with a paint sprayer

2. Kidnapped missionary survival training – Niko, the centipede and me

3. The Witch Doctor – Sometimes medical help requires a hands-on approach

4. Mexicali – A group of kids goes to Mexico with a gay youth pastor

5. “I always wondered what it would be like to date a fat guy”

6. The high cost of bachelor parties

7. The last bad trip – A 45-minute ambulance ride from Detroit Lake

8. How death is done – Explaining death to your 2-year-old

Is there a better way to handle citizen journalism?


Media organizations are doing some soul searching this week. Even Reddit issued an apology, of sorts, for the way in which the social news forum offered a platform for witch hunters in the aftermath of the Boston bombings.

CNN, still is reeling from the Supreme Court health care debacle last year, took another hit on the chin when its pundits and talking heads filled the screen with proclamations of captured suspects well before officials announced a lead.

Even the overly cautious Associated Press, the longest to hold out that a suspect or suspects were in custody, finely had to recant.

It wasn’t just CNN, the AP or online forums like Reddit that screwed up the Boston Marathon Bombings. Every media outlet got something wrong.

And it’s not because they’ve let their editorial standards slip or because they’ve lost too many quality people. No, my friends, resources are not the issue here.

It’s because the audience has fundamentally changed. And big media (and small) has failed to recognize it.

If I can get my news from someone at the scene who live Tweets and posts pictures or video, I may be no better informed than if I waited for big media to get there and dissect it for me, but I’ve experienced a little of the trauma, I’ve lived just a little of the narrative through the eyes or lenses of those who were there.

Most media outlets still gather information, distill it, then push it out from behind the hallowed glass halls of the A1 daily meeting.

The audience is tired of being told what happened, when they’ve know about it hours before CNN recapped it or the New York Times printed it. The audience just wants to understand it.

And in our efforts to explain it by telling people who, what, when and where, we forget that there is an army of  smartphone-bearing citizen experiencers out there already fleshing out the narrative.

But instead of treating them as the narrative, we isolate them and caution our remaining audience not to believe everything you see. But we were irrelevant long before we reached the point of marginalizing our own audience this way.

Getting back to what we do best

We are all addicted to story, because story is the common denominator between humans and the rest of the universe. If we need to understand something and preserve it for future generations, we put it in a narrative.

Media outlets attempting to scream into the dark void are starving for attention, and though the bells and whistles of television might get a momentary glance, there is no stickiness there these days.

Which is how Boston went so terribly wrong for so many media organizations.

In the aftermath, after the FBI shut down the information network, I saw media organizations try to connect into the narrative by providing a shell, a housing, so to speak, for the stories that were emerging.

By then it was far too late.

And even though this illustrates the best intentions, most publishers, general managers, managing editors and executive editors would do well to understand that people just don’t need you anymore, not when they can go to the source and hear the stories from the mouths, the keyboards and the cameras of the experienced. Or, more realistically, those stories find us through word of mouth and popular consensus as it trickles down to the phones in our pockets.

Journalism has thrived not on its ability to investigate and ferret out the wrongs in society but by great storytelling.

Media organizations no longer control the tools that allow the broadcast of stories. Social media took that away, smartphones with 10 megapixel cameras and high definition wrested it out of the hands of television producers. The venerable news sources of old are just one of 10 or 12 tabs open on your browser these days. One icon among dozens on your smartphone or tablet.

New Media is old media in sheep’s clothing?

Sure, new media makes the tools infinitely easier to use, but rapid monetization means they make the same mistake old media has made.

Who controls the story?

In the flashbang of public input from a large-scale breaking news story, it can be difficult to see who controls the story. We’re at a time when source-driven reporting is giving way to massive attempts to both control the flow of social information and to utilize it to help get at vital information.

The question for major media, and really all media, is this: What is our reporting role changing into, and how do we better harness and use the public flow of information to better serve humanity?