Friday, August 7, 2009

Is narrative always the right answer?

"Those of us who love narrative might be tempted to say that it conquers all. But are there some experiences which are perceived as being so subjective—or about which readers may be so committed to an opinion—that writing a piece as a pure narrative might work against the story?"

Andrea Pitzer of the Nieman Narrative Digest poses that question in an essay about a narrative on a woman's struggle to leave an abuser.

Pitzer notes that narrative has techniques to address the shortcomings that might come with telling a story from, for example, one person's perspective. And she says the author "makes sure we don’t dismiss her article as more advocacy than journalism by anticipating the moments when context, facts, and quotes from lawyers or policemen will make her story stronger."

I must say I can't immediately see why a narrative writer wouldn't try to do everything he/she could to ensure a piece doesn't come off as advocacy, because advocacy journalism lacks the credibility and force of well-done independent journalism.

But the question Pitzer asks is a good one, and reminds us that we should always be asking how best to tell a particular story, and vetting our decisions to make sure the story is told as well, and accurately and independently, as it can be.