Searching for a Main Character

Posted by | March 02, 2021 | Articles | No Comments

The Value of Storytelling

stopwatch

For more than five decades, in many American households Sunday evenings were characterized by an emblematic stopwatch with the sound of its unstoppable needles. Early in my journalistic career, this sound meant one thing: drop everything, sit down and pay attention.

Tick Tick Tick Tick Tick. 60 Minutes was about to begin.

The CBS television news magazine stories were riveting. Watching 60 Minutes was the equivalent of taking a master class taught by the best investigative journalists of the time. From the depth of the stories to the interviewing techniques to the use of hidden cameras, this gotcha journalism was inspiring. How invigorating to see our profession making an impact in society! How exhilarating to see that, as journalists, we gave a voice to the voiceless and served as a tool for change.

While the 60 Minutes pieces emphasized the work of the correspondents, I knew that behind each story there was an army of producers. One of them–Ira Rosen, a now-retired senior producer– just released Ticking Clock: Behind the Scenes at 60 Minutes. His book is a memoir of his professional journey and a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the stories were built upon a main character.

Rosen, who started working for the show in his late 20s was responsible for investigative stories when the internet and social media were non-existent. His technique to develop compelling stories came by identifying outstanding storytellers—individuals who spoke with energy, ease, and assurance. Rosen knew that these abilities made them jump out of the screen!

For Rosen, what better place to find these storytellers than in Washington D.C.! He spent long hours in and around government buildings talking with legislators and other federal officials. He created a file of superb storytellers, which he labeled “officials in search of a story.” Later, he tried to attach a story he was doing to each of them.

What did these storytellers have in common? They all spoke the language of the living room. They were conversational, energetic, and most importantly, believable.

Storytelling has reemerged as an important communication tool. While not everybody is born with such natural attributes, particularly in this age of virtual meetings, companies that encourage and empower their employees with opportunities to enhance their storytelling abilities reap the rewards. While their storytellers may not be cast as the main character on an investigative television story, they will achieve the same basic intention of every communication: for the listener to drop everything, sit down, and pay attention.

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