May 28, 2021

The lost art of storytelling

Siera Jones

ESPN’s Michael Wilbon offered his wisdom to the class on day five of boot camp. Although many know him best for his talk show “Pardon the Interruption,” my biggest takeaways from the conversation were not about the broadcast industry. His perspective about the art of print storytelling, especially when it comes to game stories, prompted me to reassess my approach to gamers.

Social media has become a prominent factor in-game reporting, and Mr. Wilbon pointed out that journalists’ obligations to their cell phones cause them to miss the important aspects of the game that readers can’t find by looking at the box score. The “second screen,” as he calls it, is a distraction from the meaningful details of a game and diminishes the quality of a story.

The industry’s reliance on analytics is also detrimental to effective storytelling. Mr. Wilbon explained that rather than describe the atmosphere of a game, journalists fill their gamers with statistics that don’t give readers an image of what happened and why.

His advice for balancing statistics and storytelling is to lead with observations and descriptions, then use analytics and numbers to support those observations.

“Analytics have created two generations of writers who do not know how to tell a story,” Mr. Wilbon said.

I want to become an exception. Key word–become.

In my limited experience, I had allowed analytics to be the star of my stories, watched live stats on my phone. At the same time, the important details of the game unfolding before me escaped my notice and filed “stories,” which ironically don’t tell a story at all.

I know improvement can only come with practice, so as I approach my last game coverage assignment of SJI boot camp, I hope to become at least a slightly better storyteller than I was yesterday.

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