The power of story

Posted Jun 24, 2011 | New Media Project

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By Verity A. Jones


Powerful stories move us to act, reflect, engage, and respond. Have you ever noticed how many stories you encounter in a day? How many of us have reckoned with the power of our own stories to move others?

When we talk about changing patterns and tools of communication we can sometimes devolve into dualistic thinking. We pit the message against the medium, suggesting that somehow they are separate entities and that one message can be conveyed through a variety of media and remain just the one message. The reality is that media not only shape how the message is conveyed and received, but media also become part of the message. The story told by a photograph is inextricably bound to the medium of photography. The story as told by that photo does not exist without that photo.

Thinking about medium vs. message isn’t new. What interests me now is the warning against dualistic thinking. When studying media and religion, we need to be careful not to overlook that the uses (and abuses) of new media and social media are always bound to the stories told through those media. In fact, the New Media Project intends explore how changing media patterns and tools impact not just the way theological stories are told, but also the context and content of those stories.

For example, consider the power of personal testimony shared in real time from the epicenter of a disaster like the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. Or how the high demand for breaking news on the Internet 24/7 may be undermining long-form investigative journalism.

The folks at Auburn Media, a program of Auburn Theological Seminary in New York, have been studying the role of story in American religious life for some time now.  Last year, Director Macky Alston presented “The Power of Story to Trouble the Waters and Heal the World” to a consortium of religion media specialists and posted it to the seminary’s blog. It’s a wonderful exploration of how story functions in the contemporary global world of new media, social media, video, advertising, podcasting, and reporting. Read it, watch it, and let me know what you think.

Verity A. Jones is the project director of the New Media Project, and a Research Fellow at Union Theological Seminary.

The New Media Project is a research project helping religious leaders become theologically savvy about technology. To request permission to repost this content, please contact newmediaproject@cts.edu.

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