There is a song that was popular in the 1970’s. It is called “The Best That You Can Do” or “Arthur’s Theme” from the movie of the same name. Christopher Cross sang it. It’s about a man, sitting in a crowded jetliner, circling the airport and waiting the land in one of the most exciting cities in the world. As the line in the song goes, “When you are stuck between the moon and New York City, the best that you can do is fall in love”.
The message of that song came to back to me recently as I flew across the country caught between the sky and the landscape crawling by below me. I thought about the hundreds of stories I had covered during my more than 40- year career as a broadcast journalist. As I looked down at the small towns and the larger cities, I realized that many of the same stories I had told on TV were going on at that very moment in those same towns and cities. People were down there arguing, usually over politics. People were celebrating a victory and others were crying because they had just lost their house to a fire or a family member to a tragedy. There were police officers doing their job and firefighters risking their lives. All the things I had seen and reported on during my professional career were happening again, over and over again, every minute of every day. They were the same stories about people with different names and faces.
So, the question I ask you, if you claim to be a great storyteller, is what makes your stories different than mine? If we are all covering the same celebrations and tragedies and challenges and arguments, then why are your stories worth investing my time to listen or watch or read or share?
Don’t expect me to give you the answer. Truthfully, it is the question that is more powerful! Ask yourself that question every time you get an assignment or pitch a story at a morning editorial meeting. Before you speak, remember that the story you are suggesting has already been done hundreds of times in other places by other reporters. Decide what you are going to do to make your story different. You may not find the answer the first time you try this exercise. It’s more difficult than you think. But keep trying. Everyday, look at other stories and try to identify the “nugget” of newness, or the moment when the story surprised you. Focus on that. Make it “new” for you. That is what is compelling.
So, here I am looking at the landscape below from my airplane window and thinking about all the stories that are happening down there and remembering the times I said, “I have done the same story before”. I realize now each one is different, but it is up to me to find the difference and tell it that way.
Challenge yourself to try this when you plan your next assignment and listen to the classic song by Christopher Cross. Maybe, it will inspire you too.