The Washington Post’s new narrative project, Storyline, launched today under the editorship of economics policy correspondent Jim Tankersley, with the tagline “People, policy, data.” As Tankersley explains in his introduction, Storyline is “dedicated to the power of stories to help us understand complicated, critical things. We’re focused on public policy, but not on Washington process. We care about policy as experienced by people across America.”
Tankersley points to a series by The Oregonian’s Rich Read (Nieman Fellow ’97) as an example of what’s possible. In 1998, Read told a story of global economics and politics by following a single shipment of French fries from the Pacific Northwest to a McDonald’s in Singapore. (The series, “The French Fry Connection,” won the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting.) “Those stories brought the crisis home in a way no textbook or straight news piece could, because at each step, they showed how global trends touched people’s lives and livelihoods,” Tankersley writes.
Some items from Storyline’s mission statement:
“We’ll tell those stories at Web speed and frequency.”
“We’ll ground them in data — insights from empirical research and our own deep-dive analysis — to add big-picture context to tightly focused human drama.”
“Some stories we will tell in chapters, across days and months, collected under themes that we call storylines. … Really, they’re big questions about our country: Who’s being lifted by this economic recovery, and who’s left waiting for recovery to kick in? How is the new federal health care law changing how we live and work? How are Americans adapting to life under Washington’s immigration deadlock? Is rural America being left behind in the new economy?”
“Sometimes we’ll let our visuals — our short documentary films and photo galleries and charts — do the talking. Sometimes we’ll push the boundaries of traditional narrative journalism, weaving those visuals together with text in fun new ways.”
A while back, we talked about Storyline with Tankersley, whom Post editor Marty Baron has called “one of the nation’s top writers and thinkers about economic policy.” He told us:
“We’re going to try to do a bunch of different things, but they’re all unified around the idea that we want to help people understand the big important issues in America, and the policies that deal with those issues, and how those policies affect people. The way we’re putting it is that we’re going to tell stories on a very frequent basis, much faster than I think a lot of folks expect you can do with narrative, online. We’re going to frequently tell narrative stories with human drama, to help people understand things. We’re gonna tell stories with numbers and pictures, and really try to engage a different sort of person than the traditional in-one-chart kind of reader. And then we’re going to try to find ways to directly engage the audience and invent almost a new kind of storytelling. We don’t know exactly what it’s gonna look like, but we’ve got some pretty good ideas.”
You can read the full conversation here.
Related, in Nieman Reports:
—Rich Read on how he wrote the French fry project, Fall 2000.
—Former Oregonian writing coach Jack Hart and Rich Read on the writer-editor relationship, Spring 2002.
—Read on covering calamity by keeping a tight focus on people, Spring 2005.