Not just the letter but the spirit (of the story)

Something nice happened this past week.

Images and Voices of Hope did a story about the trauma reporting class I teach in the J-School. It wasn’t a surprise, of course, because the reporter, Ronnie Lovler, had contacted me several weeks ago and interviewed me for a while one morning. And then there were the pictures to round up (thanks, Hannah Baldwin) and the permissions to gain…

Images and Voices of Hope, by the way, is a non-profit project focused on creating “meaningful, positive change in the world” through all kinds of storytelling.

Our global community includes journalists, documentary filmmakers, photographers, social media specialists, gamers and more. Our common thread as a nonprofit is the desire to effect positive change through our work in media.

To this end, our mission is to strengthen the role of media as agents of world benefit.

To us, positive change is about focusing on the world we want to live in – not only problem solving the world we have. It’s not about glossing difficult truths. It’s about amplifying the best in human nature and whenever possible shining a light on the steps we can take towards the future we want.

That’s a mission I can get behind. And I feel pretty honored to be identified as someone who’s playing even a tiny part in that through the trauma reporting class.

But I will confess, being interviewed for a story is always an uncomfortable experience and one that I honestly believe we journalists all ought to have from time to time. It reminds us of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of the craft and what it’s like to have very little control over the end product.

I didn’t know the reporter at all when she contacted me. So I listened carefully to her questions and her way of working. I noticed she let some silence happen between my answer and her next question. She simply said, “I’m typing as we talk, so don’t worry if you hear silence for a few seconds.” She was typing and then thinking. And her questions reflected that thinking.

So did the story, which I hope you will read. She didn’t just quote me accurately; she got the whole thing right. In other words, she understood what the class strives to accomplish and how it fits into what IVOH celebrates.

People talk about “the letter and the spirit of the law,” and I think there’s an analogy in journalism. We can get the facts right and still not quite “get” the story because we haven’t thought it through and breathed life into its limbs.

Think about that next time you report a story. Ask yourself: What do I still need to know? What am I still not quite sure about? When you’re honest with yourself about your nagging doubts, and you address them, you’re probably really close to not just being accurate but also having the authority to tell the story with confidence.

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2 Responses to Not just the letter but the spirit (of the story)

  1. “I will confess, being interviewed for a story is always an uncomfortable experience and one that I honestly believe we journalists all ought to have from time to time.”. This spoke to me and is one of the reasons why I tell people after the interview (and sometimes even write them a note) that I appreciate them sharing their story. It takes courage to give your voice to someone else.

    I read the article and it makes me want to take your class!!

  2. Anne Marie Hankins says:

    I thought this story was extremely well done! I think she hit on many of the major points that you talked about in our lecture on trauma reporting in 4450. I also find the non-profit and its mission very inspiring. I wish more stories would “amplify the best in human nature.” I believe that positive and encouraging stories about great things people are doing to make our world and the media a better place can often have a domino effect on others. The more awesome things we hear about others doing the more inspired we become as a person to pursue positive things as well.

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