Trying to Tell the Story


October 01, 2015

I often get mistaken for a photographer, usually when I’m at the front of meeting with a big camera, taking pictures of the speaker or the crowd. What people don’t notice is that as soon as I sit down, I’m frantically writing or typing notes, sometimes trying to make sure I accurately record what was being said as I was shooting the picture.

Although I can usually shoot what I need to get a publication put together, I’m more of a writer than a photographer. It is where I invest the largest percentage of my time in putting out this publication. So as a writer, I’d like to take this brief moment to apologize, and ask for forgiveness.

It doesn’t really matter if it is a speech that is being covered, or an interview for a story, often the subject isn’t totally happy with the end product. I’ve been on the other end of things as the subject of a story a few times, and I didn’t really like the way the story turned out, either. This is because so much of what I was trying to convey was completely left out of the story. I know the people I’m writing about have to feel the same way.

For example, if I’m covering Bishop Robert Schnase’s learning time at Annual Conference, his talk will be several thousand words long. My story about the presentation in this magazine will be less than a tenth of that. I’ll try to summarize some of his main points, and directly quote of few of his lines, but most of what he has to say I’ll completely leave out. I know he chooses his words carefully – and I’m not using those carefully words when I summarize. He clearly puts a lot of work into crafting a meaningful message, and as I write my final copy, I’m essentially saying, “That analogy you made was OK, but I don’t think it’s worth putting into the story, so I’ll ignore it so I can run a bigger picture of Ivan James.” Sorry, Bishop.

I’m not necessarily always right in the choices I make in writing stories. I don’t really have a lot confidence that I’m right most of the time. Put multiple journalists in the same room, covering the same speech, and the stories will come out quite differently. They quote different parts, summarize differently and may not even agree on what the main point was. When I worked at daily newspapers, I occasionally got an opportunity to run with the big dogs. Something local would garner national attention, so Time or Newsweek would send their reporters to my town and for a day or two they would be interviewing the same sources and writing the same topics that I was covering. Back in the newsroom, us locals would later read through the national stories, and take delight in pointing out all of the places that they got minor details wrong. But I’m not going to bash the “Main Stream Media” here. In our local heckling, we were nit-picking the minor details – the news writers at the top national publications do consistently get the main points of a story right – that’s how they got to be the big dogs.

So I now apologize to all of the people who have read a stories about themselves and been disappointed. As this issue goes to press, I’m working through notes of some excellent presentations I just attended. Reading my stories won’t be as good as being there, but it is my prayer that the information I’m sharing will help strengthen the connection of Missouri’s United Methodists.