A Lesson Learned from a Poodle and A Snake

“If we see something that blows us away, we will keep coming back for it. ”  

This quote came out in our interview with Jon Franklin, a two time Pultizer Prize winning newspaper reporter. It captured the theme of the month – the power of storytelling in marketing, communications and public involvement, so we pulled it to the top to kick off our introduction of Jon.

Jon and his Poodle
(Credit: Jon Franklin)

One morning, out of the blue, Jon’s dog went into a fury of excitement. He had spotted a gopher snake trapped and hanging upside down just off Franklin’s porch. Franklin released the snake and off it went. But every day, when returning from their walks together, the dog would again and again grow excited about the possibility of seeing that snake. The reaction lasted about a year.

The reason: “If we see something that blows us away, we will keep coming back for it,” he said. “That’s the same power of storytelling.” If a story is told in a compelling, fascinating, edge-of-your seat fashion, people will react. And they will keep coming to the source, hoping to experience it again.

And that can apply to all mediums where storytelling is used: Movies, TV, marketing, etc.

Franklin knows about creating that experience. His newspaper work is cutting-edge because of its emphasis on storytelling techniques. His stories read like short stories, but are completely factual. Indeed, he’s one of the pioneers of long-from narrative writing or so-called, “New Journalism.”

He’s a trailblazer, having taught himself the form he mastered. One of his books, “Writing for Story,” is a must-have for any journalist – which in the today’s world where newspapers are giving way to new forms of media all of us have ironically become – writing on our company and client’s blogs, Facebooks, websites and media and press kits.

Now living in Sunderland, Maryland and retired from newspapers and teaching, Jon continues to write. He’s working on a novel about a small-time hit-man whom he knew when he worked at the Baltimore Evening Sun. He’s also something of a pioneer when it comes to the Internet. He started a writers’ website, called “WriterL” in the 1990s. To see samples of his work, go to his website.

Reading them, you can see and feel the power of storytelling.  All clients, all industries, need press and media coverage and there are few more powerful ways of conveying a message than through a story. Here’s one journalist’s take on what makes a story and why stories matter to us all.

– – –

What is the state of storytelling in this day and age of such dramatic technological change?
Well, nothing can hurt storytelling. It’s the way we’re wired. Think of the storytellers of old. It was how history was passed down. That’s because you remember stories, but you don’t remember facts…For instance, some people know chemistry. Some people know a lot about it. And some don’t know much about it. But a story helps people get it. Stories are the way we get things.

You honed your craft in newspapers, but newspapers, because of revenue losses, have been cutting staff and rarely publish the kinds of stories you produced. Will that hurt storytelling?
The narrative form of writing is very expensive and runs contrary to the culture of the newsroom. It usually takes a long time to produce, but not always. It also takes a lot of space, but again not always. And very few journalists are trained in it. It was always under fire. For one thing, it tends to empower the writer over the editor…Mediums change, however. In the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, it was the great age of short stories. But the short story magazines died because article journalism was cheaper. It  (storytelling) will always survive, though, because readers love it.

So how will storytellers hone their crafts today?
In the first place, most writers teach themselves. They’ve always have. I did so by reading and copying or deliberately now copying….And you have some people who simply have to write them (stories). Maybe they’re not as smart they want to be and they need to put the world in some sense of order. And they do this through stories.

So we have nothing to worry about?
Story is eternal, it’s only the storytellers who prosper or suffer depending on the vagaries of social history.

Mrs. Kelley's Monster
(Credit: The Evening Sun)

You were a science writer. How important is storytelling when it comes to conveying complicated subjects?
Scientists don’t address emotional issues. We want information to come to us in a narrative form that’s of interest to us. Otherwise, it’ll be forgotten. There’s just too much to know. Scientists look at us as if we’re dumb second-graders. But if you don’t know the process of how something works, it becomes like magic. You can find stories in science. There are lots of them. The facts are merely the stage settings, the scenery.

What’s your opinion on the current strength of other mediums for storytelling, such as movies?
Yes, movies are powerful, but most of them are garbage…The problem with movies is that they cost so much and take so long to make and so many people have a stake in the outcome. It’s almost like making a movie by committee and not many committees can recognize magic. A good movie is the exception.

And what about the Internet?
Everybody has his or her own printing press. I can’t see how that’s a bad thing, can you? I know people put a bunch of crap on it, but it’s better than not having it. And the audience will go to where the storytellers survive.

How important is storytelling to our culture?
You can’t have a culture without it. I’m not saying if we quit telling stories we’ll die. I’m saying if they don’t exist, we will already have died.

– – –

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services

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