I have been at the daily grind of a business news room for a while now. Every day is different yet somehow all quite the same. Regardless, as journalists plough through the complexities of each changing day, there are some cardinal rules that holds their ground. The key questions to ask no matter the assignment, the event, the news. The principles to guide our judgement.
One day as I was rushing a story, I was running through these questions in my head. Sometimes you do it without even realising. But somewhere along pondering this it dawned upon me how relevant they were to everyday life. They are questions I can ask in my general behaviour, that can reflect in better decision making no matter what I am doing at that time.
In particular however, I realised these are questions we should ask when we’re talking to people, or rather, talking about people.
1. Have I fact-checked the information I am about to present?
It would be unethical to publish a story without fact-checking the information presented. Producing incorrect facts is wrong. It is also typically the subject of many lawsuits or complaints to the publisher for not having carried out their duty (to inform the public) properly.
Same goes for when you’re speaking to someone and present a set a facts about something, someone, or even yourself. Are you saying the correct thing? Did you verify your source? Would you like it if another person misrepresented a set of facts about you without fact-checking? A lot of people are misled because they are told the wrong thing. That’s how rumours spread, and how mindsets change. If we choose to be more careful with the information we spread, we do better justice to people in general and the world we portray for ourselves.
2. What sort of story do I want to portray?
After fact-checking the information, one then needs to decide what kind of story they want to portray. Is this a positive or negative story? Will it move hearts? Will it move stock markets? Will it affect general sentiment? How much of it all matters?
The words that come out of one’s mouth can be life changing. From hearing a piece of gossip from a friend to telling an inspiring story about how one overcame a personal struggle, much information we consume in everyday life impacts us in some way. Depending on the information you have at hand, you have the power to control that narrative. How do I want to use this information to benefit the other? Or will presenting these facts even benefit anyone? Or would it cause tension? A sort of self-policing is almost necessary in this day and age given how easy it is for relations to fall apart when conversing.
3. How do I present information in an interesting manner without getting personal about it?
When you’ve decided the story you have in mind, the hard part then comes in…writing it.
Writing for business readers seems more easy because most things are about the numbers and just presenting the fact as is. It doesn’t involve a person or a family member or a sad piece of news (well not always). Writing factually is easier. But it doesn’t mean it’s interesting. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t’ want to inject a bit of flare to spice the story up. But sometimes flare can be complex because when you write about a company making a consistent loss much at shareholders dismay, some don’t take such words lightly.
Anyhow, it reminds me that the art of storytelling treads a fine line – being interesting without overdoing the substance. I have taken note of various kinds of storytellers from the most emotional kind to the one with no emotion at all. Both were memorable but hardly effective, if that does make sense. The best however, was the storyteller who pulled the listener in close at arms length, but not so deep as to lose focus.