For its October event, CPRS Edmonton was thrilled to collaborate with MacEwan University’s department of communications studies in hosting acclaimed American journalist, Barbara Reyelts. Currently the visiting artist in journalism at MacEwan University, Reyelts shared her insight into the ancient art of storytelling.
With more than 38 years of experience as a reporter, anchor, producer, public affairs program host, investigative unit leader and news director, Reyelts applies a method when creating compelling, informative and trustworthy stories. “When I sit down to write a story, I follow a process,” explained Reyelts. “I call this process The Anatomy of Storytelling.”
The Anatomy of Storytelling begins with getting the right idea. Reyelts suggests one should first consider if the story is one the public wants or needs to know.
Then, conduct research to develop your story. “In order to gain an audience’s trust and become their preferred source of information, we are compelled to do high-quality research,” said Reyelts, who bases her research on credible sources. Storytellers should be alive to their own emotions and opinions, and they should put them aside while writing to ensure they don’t affect the audience’s perceptions. “There are certain news outlets today that are biased with their stories,” Reyelts added. “This makes them an unreliable source of information.”
The next step is to gather photos and video that best support your story. “But not any photo or video,” Reyelts warned. “Journalists must never stage a shot, even if this could make things easier for them.”
At this stage, Reyelts recommends conducting interviews. “A good interview with quality lighting and solid sounds usually means a good story.” According to Reyelts, one is never to send a list of questions in advance of conducting an interview. “You need to be focused on what the subject matter has to say—not on reading a list,” cautioned Reyelts.
The final step in The Anatomy of Storytelling is to put your story together. “Try to create a compelling and succinct personal story with all the resources you gathered,” Reyelts advised. “Understand that you cannot waste your audience’s time.”
As a post-script to the storytelling exercise, almost every story needs to be followed up. “Do not leave your audience hanging, as they usually wonder what happens after they read a story,” Reyelts explained.
Behind Reyelts’ presentation was her clear passion and pride in her work. Reyelts shared several valuable lessons from her professional experience, emphasizing the importance of translating key messages into vivid stories that connect, inspire and motivate. A career highlight occurred in 1993, when Reyelts uncovered a vehicle defect that had been causing life and death problems for years. “I did a lot of research and found a significant number of similar cases,” Reyelts recalled. “Then, I contacted the vehicle company, but the issue was not addressed.” She turned to the power of storytelling and created a story that spread across the continent. Reyelts’ story ultimately resulted in a massive recall of nearly a million vehicles in the U.S. and Canada.
Reflecting on Reyelts’ experiences, MacEwan University Communication Studies Department Chair Lucille Mazo observed the important connection between the challenges and the values of storytelling: “It takes a lot of courage from a journalist or a communicator to ask the questions that nobody wants to ask in order to feed the public with the right information.”
CPRS Edmonton thanks Lucille Mazo, Iain McPherson and Sherrell Stelle from MacEwan University’s department of communications studies for hosting the October session and providing a delicious catered dinner, and Barbara Reyelts for her engaging presentation on The Anatomy of Storytelling.
Written by: Luis Carlos Flores Aguilar, CPRS Edmonton Student member, recent MacEwan University PR graduate and winner of the 2018 Torchia Scholarship in Public Relations/ Communications, awarded by the Communications + Public Relations Foundation