When we hear a typical TV news story (or read one in a newspaper or magazine), we are never told of the vast and complex reality behind the whole story; in fact, we don't want to know of this detail - we don't have time for it let alone the interest. Instead, we are told a highly simplified version of reality in the form of a story - a narrative - and, however believable this narrative is made to appear, it can only ever represent a simplified and distorted version of reality. Narrative techniques might well succeed in making news more interesting and digestible but... it can never represent reality itself. If only life were so simple.

Most news stories are told using at least some narrative elements and structure: the story's events will be given a sense that there must be a linked beginning, a middle and an end (which, if not made explicit in the news story, we will easily be able to infer); the events will be made to appear connected by some kind of cause and effect link (e.g. 'the president did this, therefore the army did that...'); the characters in the story will be presented as being somehow on the side of good or of right or not, and so on; and often a 'helper object' will be needed to allow the hero to defeat the villain (which might be a person or a country in the news but in a TV ad might be bacteria or dirt, or loneliness... so many villains!).

A key aspect that is easily forgotten but of vital importance to narratives is the need for a narrator. And having a narrator reminds us that the news has to be told from a particular point of view, one that is unlikely to be entirely neutral or unbiased, even if it is made convincingly to seem so.

  • How is the telling - narrating - of the news made to be compelling, convincing and trustworthy?



It's because narratives are so very familiar that a single image or piece of information can act to bring a full narrative to mind. In this way, a line in a poem, story or play, or a TV ad for example, can act as a mini-narrative, missing out parts of the narrative that we - the audience - will infer and automatically fill in. Even a magazine ad works at the level of narrative - a snapshot narrative - as you are about to discover...