Posts tagged with: Neil Postman

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Brand-Storyteller“The plural of anecdote is not data”, claimed toxicologist Frank Kotsonis, in an attempt to correct sloppy thinking. While Kotsonis has provided a useful aphorism, it can obscure the equally interesting fact that the singular of data is anecdote.

Consider, for example, the following two stories. The first is the shortest work of fiction ever written by Ernest Hemingway:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

This powerful story is a marvel of economy. In a mere six words and three punctuation marks, Hemingway is able to convey a sense of tragic loss without ever introducing a single character.

Compare to a story with a similar theme from an anonymous author:

Infant mortality rate: 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Although it lacks the emotional impact, this too is a model of brevity. Seven words, two numbers, a comma, colon, and two periods are used to express — albeit rather dryly — an important fact about the human condition. Indeed, if Hemingway’s story was not fictional, it could be considered a singular instance of the second story; a particular example of a more general phenomenon.

At this point, you may object to the use of the term “story” in reference to a statistic. You may be tempted to repeat back to me Kotsonis’ mantra: “The plural of anecdote is not data.” But if the singular of data is anecdote and anecdotes are a form of story, then why can’t data be a collection of tales, sifted down and pressed together, into a narrative?Transforming data back into narrative form can provide the oft-lamented missing link between the data and analysis produced by conservative think tanks and the storytelling that appeals to the general public.

Lack of storytelling ability is one of the reoccurring themes of modern conservatism. At National Review Online, Lee Habeeb is the most recent writer to point out that conservatives need to become better at getting our point across by the use of stories:

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Monday, July 15, 2013

how-the-newsConstantly in search of a sensational story, the American newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst once sent a telegram to a leading astronomer that read: “Is there life on Mars? Please cable 1,000 words.” The scientist responded “Nobody knows” — repeated 500 times.

I thought of that anecdote when I read Elise Hilton’s post earlier today in which she asks, “You remember ‘news’, don’t you? Every evening, a somber-faced reporter would come into your living room, and deliver the serious stories of the day.” She adds, “We seemed to have decided, as a nation, that ‘infotainment’ is more important to us than news.”

I don’t often disagree with Elise, but I have to register my dissent on this topic – a perennial theme of mine – for the news has been a form of infotainment in America for at least a hundred years (and possibly much longer). And when it comes to the medium of television, news cannot be anything other than infotainment.

As the late media theorist Neil Postman wrote in Amusing Ourselves to Death,