The Power of the Narrative

27 Oct

Every good story has a beginning, middle, and end.  This story begins with a note from a long lost friend needing a small favor.

My old colleague Cortney Napurski always had sharp skills and big ambitions.  She’s more than proven it in the past four years, no longer the young journalist just out of college.  During that time she’s chased dreams while the rest of us chased paychecks.   And all the while she became the kind of young woman who no longer fits on a one page resume: a Londoner, master’s graduate, and a mother.

Now, she’s chasing another dream called a PhD.  It’s also where her note fits in asking for a letter of recommendation for a research grant.  What Cortney hopes to prove is that literature is a better tool at teaching history than by forcing kids to memorize dates, facts and names from a text book.   In other words, she’s attempting to prove what her journalism background has instinctively taught her—the instructional power of the narrative.  The best journalism has always been a collection of verifiable facts woven into narrative form.   Narratives are the glue by which humans cognitively communicate and connect with one another.  There’s a reason why the Anasazi carved petroglyphs, why Homer wrote poems, why Jesus told parables—because they work.

We use narratives to sell and define products, presidential candidates, even ourselves.  They tell the story of our lives, even our careers.  As a reporter, I’ve written hundreds of narratives.  But ask my colleagues about the one that perhaps best defines me as a storyteller, and they’ll most often say it’s a little ditty called Motown.   It’s a memorable gem I had the honor to co-write with NPPA National Photographer of the Year Andy Shilts.


What Motown Adams teaches us is that we all have a story to tell.   Motown’s story is one of redemption.  Watch it once and you’ll remember him forever.

And that’s exactly why my friend Cortney is onto something.  If literary narratives from the early 20th century can elicit the same connection and emotion, then Cortney is hypothesizing they can also become an effective teaching tool that connects students to the people, culture, events, and higher level values of that time.

In the process, Cortney is writing her own narrative.  She has a great beginning.  I can’t wait to see where she goes next…

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