On Monday we had the privilege of meeting with Evan Ramstad of The Wall Street Journal who gave us his two cents on the importance of good storytelling in quality journalism. It was quite obvious that he's a seasoned pro at the art. Though he had his notes on paper in front of him, the whole talk had a natural flow and was woven into several anecdotes that gave life to his key points.
The opening slide contained the words "The king is dead." I couldn't think of what this might possibly refer to. The death of some financial mogul? Maybe Michael Jackson, the King of Pop? I quickly scratched that second thought, realizing that this was The Wall Street Journal, not US Weekly.
"The king is dead" is actually part of a story, according to E.M. Forster. The ending of that story is, "the queen then died." While simplistic journalism follows this method of storytelling, Mr. Ramstad explained that much more compelling stories develop a plot. "The king is dead and the queen then died of grief," best summarizes the kind of story that engages readers. The explanation for why the queen died adds a narrative element that good journalistic writing also seeks to produce.
He then drew upon personal experiences including his brief foray into the world of sports journalism and his time at a software company's "boot camp" for potential new hires to explain the challenges a reporter faces in crafting the plot of a news story.
His point is especially relevant for PR specialists who act as storytellers on behalf of their clients. Though a journalist's and PR consultant's motives may not always be in perfect harmony, the method of carrying out their tasks is the same. In order to foster a relationship between a firm and the public, a PR consultant must tap into the emotions of the audience. Without a plot, the public's connection to the firm remains tenuous and unsure.
As he wrapped up his talk, Mr. Ramstad briefly touched upon the influence of social media—an area in which B-M continues to make great strides. Though he sees the cost of distributing information as having changed, he believes the cost of gathering information has remained the same. What communications specialists must focus on for the future is maintaining a high quality of storytelling in a world in which everyman can "be published". And the next step is to involve the readers in the storytelling process by engaging them through SNS.
The worlds of journalism and PR are no longer one-way streets. Though it is up to the journalist and PR consultant to deliver the framework and bulk of the story, storytelling is now more than ever a process which requires and invites audience participation.