Several years ago I had the opportunity to speak at a conference for the National Press Photographers Association along side the great Izzy Bleckman who was Charles Kuralt’s cameraman for 15+ years. During one of the sessions we sat on a panel discussing storytelling v. reporting. I must have been in somewhere in the middle of describing how most reporters fail at storytelling saying something like, “reporters they ask leading questions instead of asking the interviewee to lead them and that they put to much of themselves into the story.”
When Izzy started talking about how he was in a room at the Holiday Inn somewhere with Charles, I can’t remember where, watching the local evening news as they frequently did before going out to dinner. And there was a story on about a children’s tricycle race. It was a very appealing story about kids peddling away, trying to go fast. And as they watched, Izzy said, “You know, before this story’s over, that guy is going to ride a tricycle. That reporter.” And Charles said something like, “No, he wouldn’t! It would just ruin it! It would turn an attractive story into a kind of joke.” And we watched. And sure enough, at the end, the camera was close up, and this guy says, “Joe Somewhat, Eyewitness News,” and the camera widened, and he was on a child’s trike, and he turned and peddled awkwardly away.
The room we speaking to erupted in laughter and so did the panel. Izzy pulled the microphone close and said now that is a story. Many of those looked around the room and at each other as he continued, stating Charles and him dubbed that the tricycle principle, which is very simple for a reporter. And it is simply, where possible, don’t ride the tricycle.
What he was getting at was we all, not just reporters put ourselves into the story. What we need to do is keep ourselves out of the story. The people who are watching, listening, or interacting are not interested in you, they’re interested in this tricycle race and these cute children.
Since that day in Ohio, Izzy’s story has stuck with me and looking around at church communication it seems to me that principle that is violated more than ever. I understand why. Our older more established churches want to make themselves buzz worthy, they want to be part of the story, if possible. I think that’s just the wrong way to do it. I think one should leave oneself out of the story and let our people, their stories of compassion and hope, along with the never changing word represent the church.