Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Putting the story back into newspaper storytelling

One of my central theories about the decline of newspapers is that they've forgotten, in the world of 24 hour news cycle, the meaning and value of the word 'new' in their product offering of 'new' information in newspapers.

(For more on this take a look at a revised posting on repeat stories in the IHT.)

Another, is that partly as a result of this, they've just forgotten, or never realised they had to quickly acquire, the skills of story telling: developing meaningful daily narratives that engage readers in interesting, paradoxical and stimulating ways. I'm not talking about individual pieces, I'm talking about the packaging of those stories into a narrative that people are excited by and want to follow.

Fuck whether it's useful to their job or 'the power of knowledge' or all that other crap newspapers use to market themselves. Tell me a goddamn good story man!

The reason I sign off these blog posts with the invitation to 'explore an alternative daily narrative' at A Place in the Auvergne, is that this Auvernge blog is, among many other things, an illustration of how to tell story using exactly the same information as appears on any given day in the IHT or at It's rushed, it's not perfect, it's illustrative only of my point, but if you give it some serious study for a day or two you should begin to get the, well, story.

So this piece on story in today's IHT did naturally catch my eye. Worth reading, and substituting the newspaper industry for the movie industry.

Putting the story back into onscreen storytelling
By Michael Cieply
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
LOS ANGELES: The movie world has been fretting for years about the collapse of stardom. Now there are growing fears that another chunk of film architecture is looking wobbly: the story.
In league with a handful of former Hollywood executives, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Laboratory plans to do something about that with the creation of a Center for Future Storytelling, which opened Tuesday. The center is envisioned as a "labette," a little laboratory, that will examine whether the old way of telling stories - particularly those delivered to the millions on screen, with a beginning, a middle and an end - is in serious trouble.
Its mission is not small. "The idea, as we move forward with 21st-century storytelling, is to try to keep meaning alive," said David Kirkpatrick, a founder of the new venture.
Once president of the Paramount Pictures motion picture group, Kirkpatrick last year joined some former colleagues in starting Plymouth Rock Studios, a planned Massachusetts film production center that will provide a home for MIT's storytelling lab while supporting it with $25 million over seven years.
Arguably, the movies are as entertaining as ever. With a little help from holiday comedies like "Yes Man" with Jim Carrey and "Bedtime Stories" with Adam Sandler, the U.S. domestic motion picture box office appears poised to match last year's gross revenues of $9.7 billion, a record.
But Kirkpatrick and company are not alone in their belief that Hollywood's ability to tell a meaningful story has been nibbled at by text messages, interrupted by cellphone calls and supplanted by everything from Twitter to Guitar Hero.
"I even saw a plasma screen above a urinal," said Peter Guber, the longtime film producer and former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment who contends that traditional narrative - the kind with unexpected twists and satisfying conclusions - has been drowned out by noise and visual clutter.
A common gripe is that gamelike, open-ended series like "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Spider-Man" have eroded filmmakers' ability to wrap up their movies in the third act. Another is that a preference for proven, outside stories like the Harry Potter books is killing Hollywood's appetite for original storytelling.
Guber, who teaches a course at the University of California, Los Angeles, called "Navigating in a Narrative World," is singularly devoted to story. Almost 20 years ago Guber made a colossal hit of Warner Brothers' "Batman" after joining others in laboring over the story for the better part of a decade.
But in the last few years, Guber said, big films with relatively small stories have been hurried into production to meet release dates. Meanwhile, hundreds of pictures with classic narratives have been eclipsed by other media - he mentioned "The Duchess," a period drama that foundered last month as potential viewers were presumably distracted by the noise of a presidential election - or suppressed by louder, less story-driven brethren.
"How do you compete with 'Transformers'?" asked Guber.
Ultimately, he blames the audience for the perceived breakdown in narrative quality: in the end, he argued, consumers get what they want.
At the Sundance Institute, as it happens, other deep thinkers tend to think that film storytelling is doing just fine.
"Storytelling is flourishing in the world at a level I can't even begin to understand," said Ken Brecher, the institute's executive director. Brecher spoke last week, as his colleagues continued sorting through 9,000 films - again, a record - that have been submitted for the coming Sundance Film Festival.
The festival, set for Jan. 15 to Jan. 25 in Park City, Utah, will have story as its theme. The idea, Brecher said, is to identify film stories that have defined the festival during its 25-year run, and figure out what made them tick. (Brecher said the final choices had not been made and declined to identify candidates.)
If anything, Brecher added, technology has simply brought mass storytelling, on film or otherwise, to people who once thought Hollywood had cornered the business.
The people at MIT, in any case, may figure out whether classic storytellers like Homer, Shakespeare and Spielberg have had their day.
Starting in 2010, a handful of faculty members - "principal investigators," the university calls them - will join graduate students, undergraduate interns and visitors from the film and book worlds in examining, among other things, how virtual actors and "morphable" projectors (which instantly change the appearance of physical scenes) might affect a storytelling process that has already been considerably democratized by digital delivery.
A possible outcome, they speculate, is that future stories might not stop in Hollywood at all. "The business model is definitely being transformed, maybe even blown apart," said Frank Moss, a former entrepreneur who is now the media lab's director.
Kirkpatrick is not completely at ease with that prospect, partly because his Plymouth Rock Studios, a $480 million enterprise, will need scores of old-fashioned, story-based Hollywood productions to fill the 14 soundstages it plans to build.
In a telephone interview last week, Kirkpatrick said he might take a cue from Al Gore, who used a documentary film, "An Inconvenient Truth," to heighten concern about global warming. Kirkpatrick is now considering an alarm-bell documentary of his own, he said.
Its tentative title: "A World Without Story."


"Books about cosmopolitan urbanites discovering the joys of country life are two a penny, but this one is worth a second glance. Walthew's vivid description of the moral stress induced by his job as a high-flying executive with the International Herald Tribune newspaper is worth the cover price alone…. Highly recommended."
The Oxford Times
Ian Walthew

'I read
A Place in My Country with absolute unalloyed delight. A glorious book.'
Jeremy Irons (actor)

‘Ian Walthew was a newspaper executive with a career that took him round the world, who one day did a mad thing. He saw a for-sale sign on a cottage in the Cotswolds, bought it, resigned and moved in. For the first few weeks he just lay on the grass in a daze. Then he started talking to his neighbours and digging into the rich history of this beautiful part of England. Out of his inquiries grew this affecting and inspiring memoir.What sets it apart from others of its ilk is the author’s enviable immunity to cliché and his determination to love his homeland better than he used to.
His elegiac account of relearning how to be an Englishman should be required reading for anyone who claims to know or love this country. Financial Times
Ian Walthew

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