The Key to Good Storytelling

By Doug Drew 

The story of the Holocaust is told through the eyes of an 8-year-old boy named Bruno in the book and movie, called “The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.” It’s about a boy who becomes friends with another 8-year-old who is in a concentration camp. “I think that the key to Bruno is that the audience has to really care about him, you know, be invested in his fate. He’s somebody that you are going to care about,” says the author of the book, John Boyne.

Just as most movies focus their theme around a central character, that same technique is what good storytelling is all about. The more people-centric you can make your stories and your newscasts, the more interesting they are going to be. Good storytelling is about finding common people who have something interesting to say and centering your stories around them.

Connecting with viewers
The BP oil spill was an environmental disaster, an interesting story in itself. But viewers quickly connected to the story because most reporters on the scene told their stories through the eyes of regular people who were affected: the out of work fisherman, the laid off employees at a hotel, the families of those killed on the oil rig, the workers trying to clean up the mess, etc. Finding common people affected by a story takes more work than finding an official, but the story will be much more interesting. This is not to say officials dont have a place in a news story. But when producing the story, start with the regular person before getting to the official.

Viewers can relate to common people
Regular people make stories come alive. They make viewers feel connected to the content much more so than interviews with officials. Regular people are much more interesting to watch and listen to than officials and this should be kept in mind whether reporting stories or booking guests for newscasts. Common people are “real,” not slick and produced. Officials speak in facts and have had media training to talk in soundbites, but regular people affected by an event usually speak from the heart. Their sound is memorable.

Newsmakers as guests
When booking guests for a newscast, the key is finding interesting people who have compelling stories to tell. Interviews with officials are likely to be boring, so you want to choose these guests carefully. There are a lot of people who are fine as a 20 second soundbite in a reporter package, but not as a two-minute guest.

Guests such as the mayor, a city council member, fire chief, or police chief are often problematic. They may seem “important” to news producers, but unless they have something really important to say and your viewers see this as “making news,” these are interviews you normally want to avoid.

Use a soundbite in a package to express emotion, and use the same rule for selecting guests on a newscast. The best interviews are with people who have an emotional story to tell.

Doug Drew is a morning news specialist with 602 Communications. He can be reached at Follow Doug on facebook and on twitter at