Narrative writing in a Twitter world: Part II
Story Lab team member Brigid Schulte wanted to know more. In this second part of their conversation, Joel asks Brigid how narrative writing can he sustained in a time when fewer and fewer writers are being paid for their work:
Brigid: Hi Joel, I don't know the answer to that. I certainly hope there will still be room for people to make it their life's work to tell stories. I know stories--even if they're around the watercooler at work, around a fire at a party, on a camping trip, in emails or in our chatter on the phone - are simply the way human beings have always tried to make sense of their world. So, story, I have no doubt, will survive in some form. Professional storytellers? We'll have to see, right? Like you quoted Sims, "This is not fast food. This is slow food. And it's expensive."
What about Gary Smith? You opened your piece with him sitting at his teak picnic table in Charleston, S.C. with a view of fruit trees in his backyard, writing four 8,000-word pieces for Sports Illustrated a year. (Nice work if you can get it.) How did you find him? (I like how he talked about the net being almost like the remote - you click, you scan, you move around, you digest snippets. But but you still want movies, right? Long, involved, moving stories that will so utterly take you into another world, you don't notice 90 minutes or two hours passing.)
Joel:Brigid: I once met Gary Smith in Miami, along with journalist Cal Fussman, who knew our friend and colleague Jeff Leen. I dimly recall we had dinner on Miami Beach, but it all fades into Pleistocene fog. I don't remember what Gary was working on, but I do remember that Cal was writing some kind of big think piece on Miami, and that his editor -- Terry McDonnell, maybe? -- kept telling him, "Cal, Cal, Cal: You need to swim in the deeper water." That stuck with me all these years.
Gary Smith has a tremendous piece on Native American basketball players in the anthology "The Art of Fact." It's called "Shadow of a Nation" and appeared in SI in 1991. I used that piece in a course I taught some years ago. And so naturally, in thinking about narrative journalism, I called up Gary and got his input. He is, like you, optimistic about narrative surviving in some form or other, but just doesn't think it works on the computer screen. That's an argument for the survival of print, or at least of some medium that isn't link-based and doesn't offer you, as a reader, endless opportunities to get off track or have a conversation or dive down a wormhole into an alternative narrative. (FYI, I turn off all the various IM-type software on my laptop because I don't really want that open door that allows someone to barge in at any moment. But then I'm a deranged loner, so never mind.)
The conversation continues tomorrow right here in the Lab.
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