If You Care About Storytelling, Bookmark “Why’s This So Good?”

writing

Don’t let the words fool you.

This isn’t the latest addition to the Food Network.

“Why’s This So Good?” comes from Nieman Storyboard, part of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

Enjoyed the way Andrea Pitzer describes the new feature:

“… we thought it would be intriguing to host a series of one-off posts by some of our favorite writers looking at classic narrative nonfiction, breaking down the magic of specific stories. Think of it as shop talk. Or a great bar conversation – minus the noise, the alcohol, and the guy spilling his Jägermeister down your back.”

Even if you subscribe to the theory that spilled Jägermeister can be an icebreaker, here’s an opportunity to look over the shoulders of journalists as they break down storytelling on business and other real-life topics.

As I’ve railed on my soapbox, there continues to be a major disconnect between the content created by communicators (both corporate and agency) and the content that goes into stories crafted by journalists.

Yes, I understand different agendas guide each party.

But folks, if you want to crack the mainstream media it behooves you to understand the construction of these stories and the type of content that brings them to life (hint: it’s not a product news release).

I particularly enjoyed David Dobbs’s riff on the Michael Lewis piece in Vanity Fair, “Beware of Greeks Bearing Bonds,” which revolves around Lewis’s journey to a monastery.

Here’s a slice of how Dobbs reverse-engineers the story:

He shifts narrative distance with similar fluidity, zooming in and out the way a good director varies framing and lens length. Sometimes he’ll park the camera and just watch. These alterations usually move story, build structure, or reveal something. At one point, Lewis is talking with Father Arsenio, the No. 2 monk. Arsenio exudes warmth, charm, intelligence and a frightening omniscience – the Godfather in a merry mood. Amid this Lewis looks out the window to the sea and spends two sentences wondering why the monks never swim. His distraction and aside amuse; they also express his estrangement from the monks’ mysterious discipline.

Right. Mr. Dobbs knows a thing or two about writing as well.

At this point you might be thinking, “It was an enjoyable read, but what does this have do with me? It’s not like Michael Lewis is going to cover offensive tackles, the subprime mortgage debacle, and now my company.”

True, but step back and take another look.

What allowed Lewis to craft a narrative with unexpected twists and amusing observations?

Access.

By giving a journalist access to people and activities – with a high-level angle like the scientists who got an invention to work 673 pizzas later - you allow him or her to go through a form of discovery and decide on the story.

That’s one way to get the attention of the mainstream media.

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