A few hours ago, The Washington Post published a story about a mother who died soon after giving birth to her first son.
A tremendously tragic story, no doubt. Everyone who knows me knows I have a soft spot for babies, small children and expectant/new mothers, so these kinds of stories do hit me pretty hard.
What separates this particular story from other, previously-reported unexpected-death-after-a-happy-milestone stories is how it was told: The reporter, Ian Shapira, and his editor decided to use Facebook. That is, they used the mother’s own Facebook status updates.
The tragedy/newsworthiness/value of the story aside, let’s think about the storytelling method. I’m a little conflicted over this.
It’s a different approach to storytelling, for sure. We at 10,000 Words have discussed various storytelling tools and methods, but taking Facebook status updates and using Facebook’s code/language are something new. But so what if it’s different? Does that mean it’s effective? Does that mean it’s the best way to tell a story?
Shapira explains in the blog post: “Beyond showing readers the gripping dialogue between Shana and her friends, we thought such a story could capture and tell us something about the very modern way that we communicate these days.”
Here’s my response. (I submitted the below as a question/comment. You, too, can submit questions/comments about this story until the discussion goes live tomorrow at 1 p.m. EST.)
Did you ever feel like maybe you weren’t doing your job as a reporter/storyteller? On the one hand, we’re getting about as intimate as we can to Shana — we’re getting the raw data, the untouched facts, from her perspective in her status updates. On the other hand, we’re not getting anything deeper — nothing beyond what she posted on Facebook, nothing that a reporter would be expected to get.
As a photojournalist, I pressure myself to go the extra mile and try to get deeper. It doesn’t always work, but I do try. And I feel like, apart from a new — if gimmicky — storytelling format, nothing elevates this piece to go above and beyond the surface of a very tragic story.
What do you think?
- ADDENDUM — Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m. CST —
The live chat with Shapira happened while I was out and about today. Mine was his second response in the queue:
This is one of the challenges my editor Marc Fisher and I discussed before doing the story. And we felt that, ultimately, for the experimentation to be as true and organic as possible, we wanted to not intrude too much. We purposely avoided interfering too much. Yes, the reader needed some guidance, so we provided that with several annotations. And I do think those annotations, and our editing, transform what was once her Facebook page to an actual story. We made decisions on what to cut, what to preserve, and what to annotate. Perhaps we could have added more annotations, but then again, I wanted to show readers how Shana herself communicated her own story. If I helped the reader out too much I feared that it would take away from the experience and perspectives of her friends who had been following her ordeal in real time. It’s a good debate and maybe it would have more powerful if we had gone more heavy with annotations. But, based on what readers are writing me, I feel very satisfied.
The next question in the queue also addresses whether or not this storytelling method is a gimmick.