Real storytelling is telling stories about what people need to know

A few decades ago, after covering a city council meeting the evening before, when I reported to work on day two of my second reporting job, the managing editor asked me what news came out of the meeting.

I told him the important story was about a major waterline project being considered that would take years and cost millions, but the story readers would be interested in was that a traffic light was going to be installed at a certain busy intersection.

The ME raised arms his arms in the clenched fists victory salute and said, "At last! a reporter who knows the difference between what people want to know and what they need to know."

In today’s English classrooms, teachers have enthusiastically embraced the idea that in the twenty-first century students need to be good storytellers, without putting that idea in the context of what people need to know.

The world outside the English classroom rarely wants to hear a student’s personal story told in that student’s voice: Those might as well be cat videos for all the value they have in the marketplace.

What institutions and businesses want is people who can tell their stories which, as least as far as institutions and businesses are concerned — are the stories about what people need to know.

If you’re an English teacher who wants to prepare students for real-world storytelling, you need to prepare students to tell other people’s stories about dull topics to people who aren’t interested and interest those people enough to read to the end.