Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Storytelling and Nonfiction: Art, Ethics and Accuracy

Implications for The Stranger

 • Interview thoroughly being sympathetic AND skeptical AND silent AND assertive. That's how you collect a deep pool of information and insight
 • Find a theme or focus. That means highlighting certain facts and ignoring others (see below)
 • That theme or focus can be a universal narrative form
 • Step back and consider whether or not what you have presented is “true” – and true is always in quotation marks.

From John Hersey's "The Legend on the License"

As to journalism, we may as well grant right away that there is no such thing as absolute objectivity. It is impossible to present in words "the truth" or "the whole story." The minute a writer offers nine hundred and ninety-nine out of one thousand facts, the worm of bias has begun to wriggle. Tolstoy pointed out that immediately after a battle there are as many remembered versions of it as there are participants.

Still and all, I will assert that there is one sacred rule of journalism. The writer must not invent. The legend on the license must read: NONE OF THIS WAS MADE UP. The ethics of journalism, if we can be allowed such a boon, must be based on the simple truth that every journalist knows the difference between the distortion that comes from subtracting observed data and the distortion that comes from adding invented data.

The threat to journalism’s life by the denial of this difference can be realized if we look at it from the reader’s point of view. The reader assumes the subtraction as a given of journalism and instinctively hunts for the bias; the moment the reader suspects additions, the earth begins to skid underfoot.

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