Posted by: structureofnews | October 30, 2018

Telling Stories

chump street

Things I like: Journalism.  Broadway.  Lin-Manuel Miranda.

So if you can get all three together, what’s not to like?

I stumbled on 21 Chump Street, a  This American Life project by accident, listening to the radio one morning.  It’s a musical dramatization of a 2012 story the program did on a number of drug busts in Florida high schools, based on the work of undercover police officers who posed as students.  The musical is pretty faithful to the facts, handles the nuance of the story and the he-said, she-said nature of the story well – and it works well as a musical too.  Not surprising, since it was written and narrated by a pre-Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda.

So it was just fun to watch.  But it also flags the need for more experimentation in how we get audiences to engage with the information we unearth and the stories we tell.  True, great writing can pull people through thousands of words. gripping documentaries can keep viewers coming back through multiple episodes, and well-designed interactive presentations can make audiences care about subjects they wouldn’t have otherwise explored.

But there are a lot more possible paths to explore, from plays and pop-up newsrooms to games to old-fashioned storybooks (even from journalists in jail! #FreeWaLoneKyawSoeOo).

I realize many of these may not scale well.  Or be financially sustainable.  (And there’s only so many Lin-Manuels out there.)

But arguably, engagement is one of the biggest challenges we face – not just in terms of cutting through the flood of noise, disinformation and partisan media out there, but also as a way of reaching out across political divides to establish common ground, and common facts, that can serve as a basis for more reasoned discussion and debate.

And if it takes some singing and dancing to do that – well, who doesn’t like a musical?





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