Ted Talks

If story isn't the most ubiquitous word these days, then it's behind only innovation. Or creativity. Every day there is a new voice (that's pretty everywhere these days, too) telling you it's not the tools, it's the story, or to share your story, or join the story, and so on. There are directors of media & story. Construction sites tell stories as they build storeys. You can even storify your stories.

What's the story with story?

I'm going to spend some time thinking through the answer to that question. I think the shattered mediasphere and its broken economic model has just about everybody looking to story for salvation. But those are thoughts for another blog.

Ted Byfield taught me about story. Or, maybe it's more accurate to say he taught me to love story. But as I write these words I realize it's more accurate to say Byfield taught me to fear story.

Vancouver, 1987 -- There I was, a young writer ordered to report to the newsroom at 7 am to get raked for a Western Report story that I had thought was pretty decent. It wasn't. It was more about me than about the reader.

"What do you think you are?" he thundered.

"A journalist," I squeaked.

I thought he was going to have a coronary. Then I thought I was going to have a coronary. Then I thought I was going to cry.

"You're not a journalist, and you never will be. Samuel Pepys was a journalist," he roared, punching the P in Pepys. "Do you know what you are?"

By this point, I had passed the turn in conversation back to the question asker.

"You're a plumber," he answered.

I am still not completely sure that Byfield understood that he was dealing in metaphor. Part of me thinks he really did believe I was a plumber. But if I was missing the finer point of his proposition, he filled it in for me.

"It's your job to get the shit from the top of the page to the bottom. Through the twists and turns of pipes that you know how to put together."

Over the years, I have mined a lot out of that explosive, early morning encounter in the old newsroom on Homer Street. And I think that today's storytellers could benefit from Byfield's main point.

And that's that no one has the right to assume that his or her felicity with the word (or image),  access to information and data, or any other category of might they enjoy earns them more than 10 seconds of the time of the reader or citizen. Of course, people, employees can be forced to read or to sit and listen, subjects can be forced to ingest the utterances of leaders, but the grievances that accompany these readings prove the point that we don't happily turn over the floor for nothing.

It is a hopeful vision that forms this kind of writer, because it preserves some sort of connection between writer and reader.


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