The secrets to fast writing & powerful storytelling

I recently gave a talk at this year’s Online News Association (ONA) conference, which attracts about 2,500 journalists from around the world. I led a talk on fast writing and powerful storytelling and also taught the session to a journalism class at the Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, where I work.

The crowd at the ONA talk was standing-room only, with more than 300 people. It was proof that journalists are hungry for writing tips and techniques. And leading the session was a reminder of how much I love teaching writing — to young students and to working journalists.

You can watch a video of my talk here

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Break Form: Making stories with and for communities

Via the Association of Independents in Radio (AIR)

Community-driven stories hold power — to reveal hidden truths, activate public discourse, and create positive social change. They feed the soul, providing emotional and intellectual sustenance. They help us understand, and in some cases celebrate, differences. Now more than ever, we need stories that give us a window into people and cultures that are different from our own so that we can better understand and appreciate the rich tapestry of America.

Many of these stories have remained untold in mainstream media, particularly in the far corners of American communities that traditional public media typically doesn’t reach. These corners are a mosaic of cultures, races, ethnicities, and political ideologies. They’re the places where public media outlets need to establish more inroads if they want to build their audience and remain relevant. Many are hard at work on this, including those that participated in AIR’s Finding America initiative, which produced valuable lessons and takeaways for the industry at large.

[READ MORE, AND ACCESS A PDF OF THE FULL RESEARCH REPORT THAT I CO-AUTHORED HERE.]

Orlando Sentinel focuses on community healing in wake of tragedy

Sentinel

The Orlando Sentinel is taking an unconventional approach to today’s front page in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Instead of featuring a news article about the casualties, the Sentinel published a front-page editorial that looks at how the local community is coming together to remember those affected by a tragedy that killed 49 people and injured 53 others.

“We decided the front page of the Orlando Sentinel needed to reflect what we were hearing throughout Sunday about the shooting at the Pulse nightclub,” Orlando Sentinel Managing Editor John Cutter wrote. “Many talked of the sadness that we were now the leaders on an infamous list of mass shootings in the United States. But also we heard a growing chorus throughout the day that this horror would not be how we are remembered.”

Titled “Our Community Will Heal,” the front-page editorial emphasizes that the community can’t be defined by what happened but by how it responds.

“We will not — we must not — let Sunday’s heinous act of brutality and cowardice define our community,” the editorial reads. “Beyond offering our abundant prayers and sympathy, we must ensure that those who survive — who will forever carry the scars from the trauma — know that they are not alone today, tomorrow or in the months and years to come. Let our community define itself by our unequivocal response: United.”

In the aftermath of a tragedy like this, it’s too soon to start telling Restorative Narratives that show how people and communities have made a meaningful progression from a place of despair to a place of resilience. Often, these narratives don’t emerge until months or even years after a tragedy has occurred. It’s not too early, though, to report on moments of resilience and to lay the groundwork for what could become a Restorative Narrative later on. This is the time to practice good journalism — to tell the story of what happened and to show signs of hope as community members work together to heal and support one another.

Sentinel staffers are doing a good job of this, and are reminding one another that they need to take care of themselves during this difficult time.

“You can really tell it’s a newsroom that cares about the community,” Sentinel multimedia artist Charles Minshew told Poynter.org’s Kristen Hare. Minshew interned at The Denver Post when the Aurora theater shooting occurred. Hare writes: “It sounds simple, but Minshew’s tried to stop and ask his coworkers if they’re OK. It’s something he saw in Denver. You have to take care of yourself during something like this, he said.”

To see how the community is coming together on social media, follow the hashtags #OrlandoUnited and #LoveisLove.

11 guiding questions for journalists pursuing Restorative Narratives

ivohfellows

Images & Voices of Hope’s Restorative Narrative Fellows met last weekend at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., to share updates on their projects, seek feedback from their coach Jacqui Banaszynski, and deconstruct the Restorative Narrative genre.

The fellows — who are part of ivoh’s second Restorative Narrative Fellowship — are pursuing storytelling projects that focus on a variety of topics:

  • Dan Archer of Empathetic Media is creating an immersive virtuality project about a small community in Colombia that’s seeking healing and justice after years of violence.
  • Yes! Magazine senior editor Christa Hillstrom is working on a longform digital package about a young woman who leads martial arts workshops designed to help Native American women who have been sexually assaulted.
  • Public radio reporter Heidi Shin is reporting on refugees who have resettled in Boston and are exhibiting resilience in the face of constant hardships.
  • Florida International University professor Moses Shumow is creating a documentary about Liberty Square, a public housing development that’s often defined by a single narrative of crime and poverty. Shumow’s documentary will relay the painful history, turbulent present, and uncertain future of Liberty Square while illuminating stories of dignity, strength, and hope.

The fellows have been immersed in their projects for four-and-a-half months and are scheduled to complete them at the end of June. Along the way, we’ve provided them with coaching on the craft of storytelling and the Restorative Narrative genre. In turn, we’ve learned a lot from them and have found their own insights about the genre to be invaluable — particularly with regard to the benefits and key tenets of this genre and some of the challenges that come with pursuing it.

When we met, the fellows gave us some feedback on a list of guiding questions we had created for media practitioners who want to tell Restorative Narratives. We updated it after meeting with the fellows and are publishing it here for the first time. We hope the list will be a helpful resource.

[READ MORE…]

ivoh’s Restorative Narrative work featured in new book, ‘The Upside of Stress’

KellyMcGonigal

Looking for a new book to add to your Fall reading list? Consider Kelly McGonigal’s “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It,” which features a section on Images & Voices of Hope. McGonigal featured ivoh because of our work around Restorative Narrative — stories that show how people and communities are making a meaningful progression from a place of despair to a place of resilience.

We’ve been especially interested in learning more about the impact of this genre. It’s somewhat easy to track the quantitative impact, by looking at the Web traffic that Restorative Narratives generate and the number of shares they get. It’s harder, though, to track the qualitative impact — the question of how these narratives actually impact people and communities.

Positive psychology research shows people in positive emotional states are more creative, more pro-social, and more resourceful. Based on this research, we believe that Restorative Narratives have the potential to evoke resilience in individuals and communities, mobilizing them in ways that traditional stories that only focus on trauma can’t. The same research also suggests that resilience can be learned and that it has a ripple effect.

[READ MORE…]

Defining a new strength-based storytelling genre

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 12.34.24 PM.pngThe media has a profound impact on the way we see the world, how we interpret news events, and the way we respond to these events. This is especially true in the wake of natural disasters, shootings, bombings, and other tragedies.

The media tells us what happened, how many homes were devastated, who was killed or injured — all the facts that keep us informed. These stories are important, but they’re often confined to tragedy, despair and loss.

As days and weeks pass, the media move on to new stories, often neglecting to tell the “what’s possible?” stories about how the people and communities affected by these tragedies are coping and what they’re learning. We hear these types of stories on one-year anniversaries, but they’re not an ongoing part of the media’s coverage the way that the “what happened?” stories are. A growing body of research is confirming what many have long suspected — that a steady diet of trauma and disaster triggers stress, fear and trauma in those consuming the stories.

What if the news media covered stories of recovery and resilience as much as they cover stories about devastation and despair?

[READ MORE…]

Washington Post narrative puts focus on survivor, not offender, of mass shooting

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When I think about the recent attacks in San Bernardino and the Planned Parenthood clinic, I can quickly recall the names and photos of the offenders. But I couldn’t tell you the names of the victims and survivors. This is probably true for many news consumers — partly because the media tends to focus more on offenders than on victims.

This is slowly beginning to change, thanks to efforts such as the “No Notoriety” campaign, which Tom and Caren Teves started after their son was killed in the Aurora theater shootings. The Teves say they want less coverage of offenders and more coverage of those affected by mass shootings.

A new Washington Post story, “A Survivor’s Life,” stands out for this reason. The longform narrative focuses on 16-year-old survivor Cheyeanne Fitzgerald, who was shot in the back during the Umpqua Community College mass shooting two months ago.

[READ MORE…]

Announcing ivoh’s 2016 Restorative Narrative Fellows

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Images & Voices of Hope is happy to announce that we have selected the fellows for our 2016 Restorative Narrative Fellowship.

Nearly 100 people applied for the fellowship, with just four spots available. The fellows we selected — Dan Archer, Christa Hillstrom, Heidi Shin, and Moses Shumow — showed a deep understanding of Restorative Narrative and pitched projects that we believe will help deepen our collective understanding of this genre.

Each fellow will each be given a $2,500 stipend to spend six months telling Restorative Narratives in various communities. Their projects will focus on a variety of topics: the Colombian conflict; sex abuse among Native American women in the Pacific Northwest; refugees who are working through “double trauma” and finding resilience in Boston; and stories of restoration and renewal in a Miami neighborhood that is often defined by a single narrative about poverty and crime.

[READ MORE…]

The case for Restorative Narratives

This story was originally published in Kosmos Journal.

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The phrase ‘future of journalism’ is often uttered in media circles these days—and understandably so. Everyone wants to learn how to save parts of the industry that are struggling financially, and they’re attempting to figure out how to best prepare themselves and their news organizations for the years ahead.

To prepare for the future, many news organizations have experimented with innovative ways of telling stories—through compelling interactive graphics, impressive video packages, and more. Much of the innovation in media these days revolves around technology. This is important and a step in the right direction, but we also need to be thinking about innovation in terms of the types of stories we tell.

At Images & Voices of Hope (ivoh), a media-related nonprofit, we’ve been developing a genre called Restorative Narrative—stories that show how people and communities are making meaningful progression from despair to resilience. Restorative Narratives explore despair and address difficult truths, but they also move the storyline forward by showing how the affected people and communities are rebuilding and, in some cases, recovering. In doing so, these narratives highlight signs of renewal and resilience.

In many ways, Restorative Narratives offer a more holistic and balanced approach to media coverage. We’re not saying, “don’t tell stories about tragedies, problems, and crimes.” We’re saying, “tell these stories, but don’t stop there.” The story doesn’t end when the last shot is fired or when the tornado leaves town; in many ways, it’s just beginning.

[READ MORE…]

In the aftermath of tragedy, lay the groundwork for Restorative Narrative

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 12.35.34 PMJournalists worldwide are working around the clock telling stories about the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 130 people in Paris.

In the aftermath of such a massive tragedy, it’s too soon to start identifying Restorative Narratives; it’s still too raw, too recent for authentic stories of resilience to emerge. Restorative Narratives take a deep dive into a person’s or community’s meaningful progression from a place of despair to a place of resilience. Headlines about people looking for hope in Paris, or photos of people wearing “I love Paris” shirts aren’t Restorative Narratives.

This is the time to lay the groundwork for what could become a Restorative Narrative later on. This is the time to practice good journalism — to tell the story of what happened and to connect with the people who were affected by letting them know you genuinely want to tell their story.

[READ MORE…]