I’ve been neglecting you. I apologize. First, I was trying to get everything done before I left town for five days. And then I was out of town for five days. And then I was Tweeting from the Journalism Interactive conference at the University of Maryland, and it turns out I can’t walk and chew gum at the same time (I guess the walking would be blogging, and the chewing gum would be the Tweeting, but you may have your own opinion).
Many of the discussions at Journalism Interactive seemed to boil down to a chicken-or-egg argument for many of the journalism professors there. Should we, first and foremost, teach you, the journalism student, all the tools of new media and how to use them? Or should we be teaching you how identify stories, source them and then tell them using the best tools? I was struck by the persistence of this theme.
And then I got in a cab at 5:30 a.m. today for the ride to BWI and the flights home to Columbia. We had just enough time, but my cab driver assured me we would be fine. He is accustomed to passengers wondering if they’ll make it.
One time, the passenger had to reassure him.
He picked up a couple from a hotel somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle of D.C.-Baltimore-Northern Virginia. They needed to be at Dulles. And apparently there is really just one, acceptable way to get there from where they were. But there are many stoplights.
The cabbie was worried. He looked at the time. He thought about the drive. He said to the woman, who was now seated in the back of the cab, “Madame, I am not at all certain that you will make your flight.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she replied.
He was sure she didn’t appreciate the gravity of the situation. “But, madame, I am telling you that this road has many lights and it is impossible to be at the airport in the time we have.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she said again. Her husband was silent in the front seat.
So the cabbie began the drive to Dulles. And for the first time in the decade or so that he’s been driving cabs, every single light on that drive turned green before he got there. He could not believe his eyes. He estimates that he has done that drive a thousand times, and never ever has he breezed to the airport through all of those lights without hitting the brakes.
When they got to the airport, he started to ask the woman, “How –?”
But the woman would only say, “Don’t worry about it.”
He has pondered it ever since. How did she do it? Did she have some kind of device that turned the lights to green? Did she have psychic powers? Who was she?
When I got out of the cab at the airport, I could think of nothing but this story. I pondered it all the way to the gate. I thought about it on the drive to my house: lights, just turning to green as if by magic.
I’m not troubled too much by this question of which comes first, the story or the tools with which to tell them. Every indication is that the story is the thing. I wish I had an audio recording of my Bangladeshi driver telling that story. I loved the way he told it. (I have four apps on my Iphone that would have done the job, but give me a break — it was 5:30 a.m.!) And I loved the story because — like most human beings — I love a good story. Especially when it contains a mystery.
Here’s what I think: Once you’ve learned how to tell a story — and to get people to tell you their stories — you can focus on building the skill set to tell the story whatever way it demands to be told. You don’t want to be in a situation in which you’re using words when you need images. Or stills. Or video. Or when the whole thing should be an interactive graphic.
The compelling thing about the story was its sourcing: The reason the cab driver’s story was so interesting to me is partly because of the authority with which he told it. Here’s a guy who has driven a cab for years. And he still cannot solve the mystery of the Woman Who Turned Lights to Green.
It’s a good story. I heard it in the wee hours of a dark, cold morning, and it tickled my imagination. I would have paid to hear it.
(Oh, yeah, I did: $78 including gratuity.)