Of Integrity and Maligned Facts: Musings of A Storyteller

What is a story?

Can a story be devoid of facts? Can facts be assumptions? Can assumptions drive a narrative? Who controls the narrative, anyway?

A barrage of questions echo in my mind as strains of lung wrenched, breathlessly incoherent, shrill insinuations peek through the door left ajar. Before I instinctively slam the door to the cacophony blared in the name of news, I cannot help a sigh of relief – I am not there anymore.

But, once a journalist, always a journalist. I cringe at the level of news reporting and vile diatribes that go around as reportage. I avoid the news channels and consciously stay away from news sites. The morning newspaper is religiously passed on to others in the house, to make sure it does not land on my table, in time for me to read. Yes, all these orchestrations to avoid encounter with what once was my lifeblood – the news story.

No, this is not a rant. Far from it. The distance, 15 years to be precise, has given me a very different perspective on what is, and what is assumed to be news. In newsrooms ‘story’ is a common parlance. Sadly, the metaphor took over the real meaning. News steadily and rapidly became a bad story – manufactured fiction, wild assumption and outright fantasy. Yes, I am referring to the unfortunate death of Sushant Singh Rajput, and with him, the demise of the last vestiges of responsible storytelling in news media.

But I am digressing. The subject I want to address today is the integrity of a story. As storytellers, our responsibility is to communicate with our audience, provide them information in a form easily accessible and comprehensible. The construct of the story is important. The flow is essential. The language is intrinsic. But,the message, the purpose of a story, is the foundation, its raison d’être. Why are we telling a story, for whom, in what context, on what platform and in what form? These questions must be answered, with all honesty and clarity, for a story to be born.

These are not new pearls of wisdom. These are the universal truths, revered and honored by any storyteller. Integrity of a story draws from the intent. Grabbing attention and drawing interest is, of course, the purpose of a story. The question is how? There are legitimate means to gain visibility and develop engagement. And, there are cheap theatrics and free for all circus where everyone is invited, per force. Misleading on purpose, creating false narratives and masquerading wild goose chase as facts, are the unpardonable sins for a storyteller, next only to plagiarism.

Now, taking the context of integrity to business storytelling, the scenario doesn’t change much. We may not have newsroom anchors shouting hoarse, but the content peddled out does, at times, waver between outright self promotion and fact based claim to fame. As business storytellers, we have greater responsibility to adhere to the facts and give context to statistics. A number, or a percentage, presented out of context, is as much a sacrilege as a misrepresented news story, the separation is only in degrees.

Another area where the integrity of a story is in question, is attribution and reference. While the facts and figures are easily referenced, the thought must be original. This is where the nuance of storytelling and the prowess of a storyteller comes into play. In a competitive me too market, the temptation is always high to replicate others’ success, not with the effort but with subtle (or not so subtle) plagiarism. And, though there are tools that root out plagiarized content, it is only your conscience and professional ethos that comes in the way of plagiarized thoughts.Now, don’t bring in ‘great minds think alike’ euphemism, we all know the degree of sanctity in that thought too!

To a storyteller, story is sacrosanct. And, integrity of a story is non negotiable. Now, to answer the question, what is a story – a story is a well told narrative with right intent and conviction of thought. Agree?

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