Avoiding the Trap of Shallow Narratives

Avoiding the Trap of Shallow Narratives by Tiff Fehr.

From the post:


When we elevate immediate reactions to the same level as more measured narratives, we spring a trap on ourselves and our readers. I believe by the end of 2016, we will know if a “trap” is the right description. 2016 is going to be turbulent for news and news-reading audiences, which will add to the temptation to chase traffic via social-focused follow-on stories, and perhaps more of clickbait’s “leftover rehash.” Maybe we’ll even tweak them so they’re not “a potential letdown,” too: “Nine Good Things in the SCOTUS Brawl at the State of the Union.”

A great read on a very serious problem, if your goal is to deliver measured narratives of current events to readers.

Shallow narratives are not a problem if your goals are:

  • First, even if wrong, is better than being second
  • Headlines are judged by “click-through” rates
  • SEO drives the vocabulary of stories

This isn’t a new issue. Before social media, broadcast news was too short to present any measured narrative. It could signal events that needed measured narrative but it wasn’t capable of delivering it.

No one watched the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite to see a measured narrative about the Vietnam War. For that you consulted Foreign Affairs or any number of other history/policy sources.

That’s not a dig at broadcast journalism in general or CBS/Cronkite in particular. Each medium has its limits and Cronkite knew those limits as well as anyone. He would have NOT warned anyone off who was seeking “measured narrative” to supplement his reports.

The article I mentioned earlier about affective computing, We Know How You Feel from the New Yorker, qualifies as a measured narrative.

As an alternative, consider the shallow narrative: Mistrial in Freddie Gray Death. Testimony started December 2nd and the entire story is compressed into 1,564 words? Really?

Would anyone consider that to be a “measured narrative?” Well, other than its authors and colleagues who might fear a similar evaluation of their work?

You can avoid the trap of shallow narratives but that will depend upon the forum you choose for your content. Pick something like CNN and there isn’t anything but shallow narrative. Or at least that is the experience to date.

Your choice of forum has a much to do with avoiding shallow narrative as any other factor.

Choose wisely.

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